Monday, September 28, 2009

One, Two, This Remake Is Coming For You

I typically stay away from the online message boards - even those that tend to attract a smarter, more informed group of fans. Mostly because the comments are almost always slanted to the negative and to me that gets tired quickly. If I was as chronically disappointed in movies as much as some people seem to be, and if I discovered that I took zero joy in anticipating them, I'd just walk away and find something new to do with my time. I don't care how often I've been burned by lousy movies (and that'd be a lot, by the way), my enthusiasm for what's around the corner never dims. Call it a gift! True, there's plenty of movies that I end up disliking but I'm rarely down on a movie prior to seeing it. Sure to raise the usual advance ire among fans is the new trailer for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

Taking the positive point of view, I'm gonna say it looks damn sharp. But then, all of Platinum Dunes' films look sharp. There's some people who hate PD's string of remakes and on some level I can see the reason for the animosity. For me, though, the only one I've really and truly disliked has been The Hitcher (2007). I enjoyed their versions of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th but not so much as remakes but as new chapters in their respective franchises. I don't think either film holds a candle to the originals but I do think that they compare well to most of the sequels. Others may disagree but I can't go along with the idea that PD's TCM is so much worse than Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III or Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. And likewise, was PD's Friday the 13th remake a bigger blight on the series than Jason Takes Manhattan or Jason X - or even Freddy vs. Jason? It's faint praise to say so but I don't think so. My favorite PD remake to date has been their reworking of Amityville Horror - a film that's pretty cheesy to begin with and so in turn it didn't suffer much from the PD treatment.

As for A Nightmare on Elm Street, I rate the new film's chances of being good as fairly high. The original was one of the first R-rated movies I saw in the theater so I have plenty of affection for it but the series itself was never a big favorite of mine. After the buzz of Craven's film, watching Freddy get turned into a MTV-era icon wasn't so appealing. Of course, I have a soft spot for those sequels now but at the time each new Nightmare hit it was like "why can't they stick to making a serious Elm St. like the first one?" And with this new film, it looks like - if nothing else - that they're trying to make Freddy scary again. Is it too slick, is it too much of a retread of the original, is Jackie Earle Haley an effective Freddy? I don't know. I do know that it's an adjustment to see someone else as Freddy. Robert Englund truly owned that role so anyone is going to have a hard time replacing him. Even just to see Freddy standing in silhouette is to register something as being off about him. But I would hope that in the context of the film, Haley's portrayal will prove to be a strong one. Whether it is or isn't, though, the idea floated by some fans that they should've just brought Englund back is a pretty dense one. To relaunch a series for a new generation but keep the 62-year-old Englund in Freddy's sweater would've been a dipshit move.

And if this looks terrible to you, well, tell yourself it's only a dream.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Of Pandorum And Posters

When writing my review of the new sci-fi horror film Pandorum, I felt I had to note how poorly I thought the movie was marketed. The final one-sheet for the film was terrible - just a man in darkness peeling the skin off his arm. As a stand-alone image, it's kind of gross but not in a "I want to see more" way - unless you're the kind of person who's automatically going to see any genre film regardless of how it looks up front. Or unless you're really jacked to see some skin peeling.

But after posting my review, I was reminded that there were a series of teaser posters for Pandorum that took a much more funky, surreal approach:

I don't know if these were any more enticing to the average moviegoer (probably not - and doesn't that last one look like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler?) but I do think they were more eye-catching, at least. But the fact that they vanished from theater lobbies to make room for this:

...wasn't a great move. Having seen the movie, I think it's a shame that they couldn't figure out a better way to sell what's actually a pretty cool film. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a worthwhile movie went ignored in theaters but Pandorum seems to have invited failure more than most. Click over to Shock Till You Drop to read my full review.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ghost Rider 2: The Kingdom of the Flaming Skull

Sure, Ghost Rider (2007) was basically shit but as a fan of the character I didn't want that to remain the sole attempt at a Ghost Rider movie. And now, happily, it looks like it won't be (read Variety's story on the sequel's development here). Groan about the idea of a Ghost Rider 2 all you want but Ghost Rider is just too cool to let him wash out like a chump after just one trip to the big screen. I mean, really - they tried three times to get The Punisher right (and finally succeeded on the third attempt - too bad no one showed up to see it). Isn't it only fair that Ghost Rider get a least a second chance?

His origin isn't much and his Rogue Gallery is on the pathetic side (although I've always had a soft spot for The Orb) but no one can touch Ghost Rider's look. He's a guy with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle - it doesn't get any cooler than that. Comic books are filled with guys in capes and tights - a flaming skull trumps that any day.

And if the next movie should turn out to be lousy, well, the way I look at it they'll still have to make a third film. If you're in for an inch, you're in for a mile. Seriously - if you're just one movie away from a Ghost Rider trilogy (and remember you read the words "Ghost Rider Trilogy" here first), it'd be insane - and even against the laws of nature! - not to make it happen. And once the trilogy is complete, well, it'll just be a matter of waiting for the inevitable reboot of the franchise.

Yep, the way I see it, in about twenty years there's going to be a frigging amazing Ghost Rider movie. And if one comes sooner than that, consider me pleasantly surprised. If it doesn't, hey - you can't rush quality.

Super Fly

That David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly would be due for a remake of its own isn't so surprising. But the idea that Cronenberg himself would be returning to write and potentially direct the remake himself (see The Hollywood Reporter's story here) is a little astonishing. Cronenberg has been drawn back into the web of The Fly in recent years, working on the opera version of the film, but his willingness to make another movie based on the material is hard to figure. But since this is Cronenberg, who has yet to see his talents spiral down the drain, I think it's safe to assume he'll be coming back to The Fly armed with some visionary concept of how to reapproach it. And it should be remembered that Cronenberg himself didn't write the '86 version - it was Charles Edward Pogue (even though Cronenberg did his own rewriting, I remember an interview at the time where Cronenberg said that most of the ideas in The Fly screenplay that people would likely peg as coming from him were actually in Pogue's original draft) so we really haven't seen a Cronenberg-penned Fly yet. I just wish that - as long as he's up for the idea of remaking his films - he were also involved in the proposed remake of Videodrome. Now that's a film that really needs his sensibilities to work. As for The Fly, the original (well, the original remake, I should say) probably isn't even my top five favorite Cronenberg films (let me think about, it's not - but it's close) but it's still an amazing movie. Twenty-three years later, it's still the movie that Cronenberg's most known for. I can't imagine that he feels the need to step back to The Fly just for commercial reasons - History of Violence and Eastern Promises were two of his finer movies and both seemed to do respectable business as well. But whatever the case, I'm ready to take another deep, penetrating dive into the plasma pool.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Epitaph For A Third Season: An Appreciation of Friday the 13th: The Series' Final Year

The popularity of theatrical horror was waning in the late '80s and yet on television, the genre was thriving with original syndicated programming. The syndicated horror fare of the late '80s/early '90s - which included the likes of Tales from the Darkside, Monsters, Werewolf, Freddy's Nightmares, and Forever Knight - remains fondly remembered by fans today. But of all the shows of that era, the most intriguing and creatively successful was arguably Friday the 13th: The Series. A spin-off of the movie franchise in name only, Friday the 13th: The Series created its own separate mythology.

Starting in 1987, Friday the 13th: The Series told the story of sage occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) who was teamed with a pair of cousins - Micki Foster (Robey) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) - in a quest to retrieve cursed antiques and store them safely in the vault of their shop, Curious Goods. With an anthology series-style concept that lent almost endless leeway to the show's writers, Friday the 13th: The Series proved to have unusually long legs for a serialized horror show (compare its three-year run to that of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which had to limp its way through a handful of episodes before cancellation).

But even fans of the series routinely dismiss Friday the 13th: The Series' third and final season as a drop in quality. LeMay left the series and was replaced by Steven Monarque as the more conventionally heroic Johnny Ventura (even the character's name sounded like it belonged to an action hero) and with LeMay's departure, much of the chemistry of the show left as well. But with that third season arriving on DVD today, I'd like to cite ten exceptional episodes as evidence as to why Season Three should be reappraised for hosting the series' darkest and most mature round of stories.

10. Year of the Monkey (original air date: 1/15/90)
This episode boasted one of the most intriguing cursed objects of the series' run - a trio of small monkey statues, embodying the old adage of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.' A wealthy Japanese industrialist on the brink of death uses these statues to test the honor of his three children and see who - if any - will be a fit heir to his empire. Tia Carrere plays the industrialist's only daughter and the only one of his children who may resist the temptation the monkeys offer. A climatic samurai sword fight caps this unusual entry.

9. My Wife As A Dog (original air date: 2/19/90)
A singular example of the show delving into dark comedy (with a script written by Jim Henshaw, who was the executive story consultant for most of the series' run), this episode featured the fourth and final F13 performance of the late character actor Denis Forest (who was to this show what Robert Culp was to The Outer Limits) as Aubrey Ross, a firefighter in the midst of a divorce and whose adored dog is dying. Thanks to the power of the leash, Aubrey discovers a solution to all his problems. Great woman-to-dog transformation at the end!

8. Mightier Than The Sword (original air date: 1/8/90)
This was the second of two Season 3 scripts penned by future L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland (who most recently scripted the upcoming film The Vampire's Assistant). Mightier Than the Sword starred Colm Feore (who had previously been seen in the Season Two episode The Maestro and who is best known to genre fans as the memorable villain of Stephen King's Storm of the Century). Here, Feore plays Alex Dent, a best-selling novelist, who has gained his success through a cursed fountain pen. This episode takes a twisted turn when Dent uses the power of the pen to write Micki as a murderess.

7. Repetition (original air date: 2/5/90)
This episode had nothing to do with the main cast (save for a brief appearance by Micki), exclusively focusing on the tale of Walter Cromwell (David Ferry), who we first see as an award-winning newspaper columnist. After Cromwell accidentally kills a young girl after falling asleep at the wheel of his car, the crime is unknown to anyone but the girl's spirit is trapped in a cameo locket and begs to be released. Although through further killing, Cromwell is able to restore the girl to life, each subsequent life he takes also begs to be brought back - driving Cromwell to insanity and ruin. This episode was written by David Lynch's daughter Jennifer and directed by F13 mainstay William Fruet (Spasms, Death Weekend, Funeral Home). Due to the absence of the main cast, many fans choose to ignore this episode but it's one of the most dramatically accomplished hours of the show's run.

6. Demon Hunter (original air date 10/2/89)
The series' only full-on creature feature, depicting the hunt for a hulking demon with the final showdown taking place inside Curious Goods itself. Using a real-time format and digital clock read-out in the lower right-hand corner of the screen (beating 24 to the punch by twelve years!), this had a much more action-orientated feel than the usual F13 episode (ably directed by He Knows You're Alone's Armand Mastroianni - the undisputed MVP of Season Three - who also directed this season's My Wife As A Dog, Mightier Than The Sword, The Charnel Pit, and Night Prey). Hardcore violence abounds in Demon Hunter, with a flashback scene of satanists getting machine-gunned to death ("You sick bastards!"). This episode also contains one of my favorite concluding Jack-isms, those wise final words delivered by Chris Wiggins which typically closed an episode: "If, of the many truths, you select one and follow it blindly - it will become a falsehood and you, a fanatic."

5. The Long Road Home (original air date: 2/12/90)
Shows like The X-Files and Supernatural offered their own takes on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of backwoods terror (in Home and The Benders respectively) but Friday the 13th got there first with this episode that found Micki and Johnny at the mercy of two crazed brothers with a talent for taxidermy. If not for a bizarre climax that inexplicably had a stuffed corpse coming to life to pursue Micki and Johnny (with a shotgun!), this Ed Gein-style shout-out would've ranked higher as one of Season Three's best. Besides the mostly real-world subject matter, this also broke from the show's usual structure in that it begins with Micki and Johnny at the end of a mission, having successfully retrieved an object (a Chinese charm depicting a yin/yang symbol) and then encountering this episode's malevolent brothers en route home in a random brush with a non-occult brand of evil. This also featured the most overt move of the season towards making Micki and Johnny into a romantic couple.

4. The Charnel Pit (original air date: 5/14/90)
Time travel was a staple of Friday the 13th: The Series (as seen in The Baron's Bride, Eye of Death, and Hate On Your Dial) and this episode featured a cursed painting that - when blood was spilled on it - could send people back to 18th century France and into the chateau of the infamous Marquis de Sade (Neil Munro). In the modern day, Webster Eby (Vlasta Vrana), a college professor, is killing in order to communicate through the painting with the Marquis to gain historical insight. Rather than coming across as broadly evil, the Marquis is philosophical about his deeds - putting his heinous crimes in context. As he tells a close confidant: "Our crimes are small in this world, Latour. They're merely picaresque." The last episode of the series, The Charnel Pit saw the vault close for the last time with Jack noting that men need no cursed objects to find the evil within themselves ("Thoughts don't cause pain, it's what people do with them. If people are looking for evil, they're going to find it."). A fitting final statement for a show that was ended prematurely due to accusations from the religious right that it fed into a culture of violence. As Eby says, "A society that looks at itself honestly is healthy; one that denies its own evil breeds death and decay. You tell me which one we're living in."

3. Epitaph for a Lonely Soul (original air date: 1/22/90)
This tale of a mortician who's able to raise the dead - and who does so solely in order to have a woman that'll be his mate - ranks as arguably the most ghoulish hour of the series. But the middle-aged mortician (Neil Munro) at the center of this episode isn't portrayed as a standard villain but instread as someone tragically reaching out for a last chance at companionship. By the conclusion, several lives are destroyed and the image of two resurrected girls choosing to perish again, embracing each other as they're consumed in the midst of a blazing inferno, is one of the most chilling images of the series. Director Allan Kroeker (who also helmed this season's The Long Road Home) is a still-active TV director, who - among his many credits - directed the best episode of Supernatural's first season (the Grim Reaper-themed tale Faith).

2. Crippled Inside (original air date: 10/9/89)
Scripted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River), this episode put an early spotlight on Johnny and was one of the more morally complicated episodes in the series' run. A teenage girl (Stephanie Morgenstern) who was crippled during a gang rape is offered a way to escape a lifetime of confinement by means of a cursed wheelchair. As the wheelchair allows her to send herself in spirit form to murder her attackers, each death she causes brings her closer to the full use of her legs. The question Johnny must deal with is whether or not it's just to let this girl fulfill her revenge. In the end, Johnny is left with no comfort, futilely chopping at the wicker chair with an axe and not leaving a single mark on it. As a character who has benefited from the chair's satanic power knowingly tells him: "It doesn't matter, son. It'll still be here after you and I are gone."

1. Night Prey (original air date 11/13/89)
Opening with a morose Jack sitting alone on a park bench at dawn, musing about the hopelessly blurred lines between good and evil, Night Prey was as dark as Friday the 13th: The Series got. In the search for a cursed cross, Jack, Micki and Johnny find their hunt entangled with that of a man who's spent decades pursuing the vampire who snatched his true love from him years ago. Michael Burgess is perfectly cast as the obsessed lover, bringing a palatable sense of grief to the role. And with a brief bout of vampire slaying, Jack proves to look the part of a natural-born Van Helsing - although in an act of mercy he also shows that he has no appetite for that sort of blood-thirsty brutality. With its moody atmospherics and envelope-pushing (for its time) depictions of sex and violence, Night Prey was the crown jewel of director Armand Mastroianni's Season Three episodes and it also boasts one of the best scores from series composer Fred Mollin.

It's true that Friday the 13th: The Series lacks the kind of sophistication we've come to expect from television today but for its time, it was an earnest, often times thoughtful, attempt to make a scary, dramatic program. It's willingness to stretch and experiment in this third year proves that the show was not ready creatively to call it a day. It's a shame that pressure from religious groups (and Paramount's craven concession to that pressure) closed the door too soon on Curious Goods. Just as the store itself specialized in one of a kind items, so too was this show one of a kind. And, like many a precious antique, its value becomes more apparent as time goes on.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jennifer's Body

I'm glad I didn't bet anyone money that I'd pan Jennifer's Body because I ended up thinking it was pretty damn cool. Juno was a movie that I had no love for and I thought I was done with Diablo Cody's brand of dialogue but now I think it's just Ellen Page and Michael Cera I must've hated because found myself in the groove of Jennifer's Body right from the start. It doesn't reinvent the genre but it's distinctly different from its competition and that alone is commendable.

The advertising campaign is totally misleading, though. The online ads bear the tagline "Revenge Is Sweet" and that has nothing to do with the movie. It implies that once Jennifer becomes demonic that she sets out to avenge herself against whatever tormentors or high school nemeses she might have. But what I liked about the movie is that demonic Jennifer isn't so different from pre-demonic Jennifer. Once she becomes demonic, it's not as though there's any scores to be settled - after all, this is a girl who already ruled her high school. After the change, she's just a slightly more heightened version of what she already was. The film is really about her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) waking up to what a shit Jennifer is - but I guess that's a more difficult sell for a studio than "revenge is sweet."

Deceptive marketing aside, I hope this movie finds its audience. It isn't sneering down its nose at anyone who actually came looking to enjoy a fun horror movie and it's smart to boot. Check out my full review at Shock Till You Drop.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Total Eclipse Of Your Senses

I thought the previous poster for House of the Devil was the best poster of the year (if you haven't seen it, check it out) but I think this new version tops it. Whoever designed these retro-styled one-sheets ought to get some kind of medal or something because man, they sure are cool.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Silence Is Still Golden

When my wife impulsively pulled out Silence of the Lambs to watch on DVD last night, I thought that would be a good excuse for me to do something else with my time. I love Silence of the Lambs but it's one of those movies I feel like I know like the back of my hand. But as Clarice Starling ran through her arduous training exercise, accompanied by Howard Shore's melancholy but melodic score, I took a seat on the couch to watch a few minutes - and ended up not leaving until the end credits rolled on Lecter on his way to have an old friend for dinner.

As I said a few weeks back when I listed Silence as my number two pick of the best horror films of the past twenty years, it's an easy movie to take for granted. It's been imitated, emulated and parodied to death. But while I didn't think I had forgotten what a great movie it was, it turns out that I actually had forgotten just a little. To watch Silence of the Lambs is to feel a sense of craft radiating from every aspect of the film. This is a film made by people who cared about the story they were telling, the characters they were portraying, and the history of the genre they were working in. How rare is that today? Does it even still happen? It must, but I'd be hardpressed to give a very recent example. Watching Silence last night made me despondent at the thought that we may never see another horror film like it where everything - script, direction, acting, production design - comes together so well.

What made me love Silence from the start, and which seeing it again brought back in a flood of memory, is the sense of sadness that director Jonathan Demme - abetted by the performances of his stellar cast, by Howard Shore's score, and by screenwriter Ted Tally, who adapted Thomas Harris' novel with near-flawless acuity - instilled this movie with. There is an intractable loneliness to Starling's character that no professional triumph, no act of heroism, can ever wipe away. I don't think any movie character today would be allowed to be seen as vulnerable and unhappy as Starling is here. While her determination drives her and she doesn't back down from a single confrontation or obstacle, her emotions are never too far from the surface. This is not some hard-hearted, ultra-capable super cop or some aloof forensics genius. She is rattled during her first encounter with Lecter (sobbing by herself afterwards in the parking lot of the sanitarium), she has to fight to choke back tears when examining the body of one of Buffalo Bill's mutilated victims ("glitter nail polish...that looks like town to me."), and the ghosts of her unrestored childhood losses are ever-present.

In the years since Silence, portraying strong female protagonists has somehow come to mean portraying women who have no discernible human weaknesses. Women are now hardcore superheroes who eat men for breakfast. You'd never see Angelina Jolie, for instance, playing Starling in the way that Jodie Foster did. She'd have to give it right back to Lecter from the get-go and she'd never in a million years be seen actually quaking with fear as Starling does when feeling her away through Buffalo Bill's pitch-black basement. Instead, like an action hero, she'd instantly turn the tables on Bill as soon as the lights went out (spraying the room with uzi gunfire!). And she'd also probably team up with Lecter at the end to give Dr. Chilton what's coming to him. Women heroes have become all about being tough, sardonic, and able to beat the shit out of the biggest men in the room. And while I'm all for seeing examples of strong women, I think it's more impressive to see a character who isn't utterly invincible overcome their insecurities.

There's a humanity to Starling, and to every character in Silence (even the monstrous Lecter), that gives the movie its strength. As soon as Starling sees the newspaper clippings and crime photos from Buffalo Bill's crimes on the wall of Crawford's office, with their glimpses of lives snuffed out and left lying on cold grounds, we feel the spirit of empathy that drives the movie. This isn't a movie that adores its own violence. Even in the movie's most Grand Guignol moment, when Lecter leaves a victim hung and splayed like a butterfly, it's not a moment to gawk at but to be appalled by. Silence isn't a film that celebrates nihilism with rivers of blood but instead knowingly shines a light on the seldom seen river of tears that flow through the horror genre. While Lecter finally flies free at the end, Starling remains grounded by her own tightly-held burden of sorrow. It's not more adventures that the future holds for her, but more monsters. It hardly seems fair - but that's why Silence is a classic.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Five Slasher Remakes That MUST Happen Before The World Ends

Most people would say that the last thing we need is more horror remakes. And even less than horror remakes in general, most would say what we can specifically do without is more slasher remakes. But those who say that are wrong. Sadly, criminally, wrong. What we need, in fact, is more slasher remakes - five more, to be exact.

I know that the remakes of Halloween and Friday the 13th scored mixed-to-shitty results. And Prom Night wasn't many people's idea of a good time. And April Fool's Day didn't even get to any theaters. But because I personally enjoyed My Bloody Valentine 3-D and Sorority Row, I have to insist that the slasher remakes keep coming!

Of course I'd also like to see Hollywood spend some time making original horror films, but if remakes are going to continue to be made, then I've got five choice candidates that I'd like to see someone take a shot at. Before you call me crazy, irresponsible, or just sad, give my picks a look and see if you aren't convinced.

5. The Funhouse (1981)
This Tobe Hooper gem is one of his most underrated films (with an exciting climax that nearly ranks with the end of Texas Chainsaw, for me). But for a lot of people, even back when Funhouse was released, it was a case of "man, nothing happens in this movie!" And it's true that The Funhouse has a long build-up that many viewers find ridiculously protracted. Personally, I love it - I love all the time Hooper spends on these kids just wandering the carnival grounds, checking out oddities like pickled cleft-headed cow fetuses and what not (and I've got to give a shout-out to William Finley as Marco the Magnificient!). But I think the world is ready for a more balls-out Funhouse. Hell, they've been ready for almost thirty years now. I read that Eli Roth may be producing a remake of this and that sounds about right to me. I love what Funhouse is but I'd like to see the movie that many people wanted to see out of this premise but didn't.

4. The Burning (1981)
While I love Friday the 13th, I don't think it deserves to have a monopoly on the summer camp slaughter industry. Especially as the series hasn't had any campers or camp counselors being stalked since Jason Lives in '86. The films have long left the trappings of summer camp behind (even though the remake took place partially on the old camp grounds it had nothing really to do with Camp Crystal Lake) and to me, that's kind of bullshit. Because of this, we need The Burning to make summer camp a bloodbath again. Friday the 13th can sidestep the whole summer camp thing as long as they have kids in the woods but The Burning is all about camp. And while the original Burning has some good moments, I think that a better Burning is very possible. The first film is awkward where it should be building tension and it doesn't even have a Final Girl. Instead it has a Final Douche Bag, who's this kind of Peeping Tom dumb-ass who gets deservedly pushed around. So does a new Burning sound good? It sounds damn hot, is what I think!

3. Pieces (1982)
Now, Pieces is a special case. Remaking this film would be like trying to remake Plan 9 from Outer Space. What makes Pieces great is how terrible it is and you can't try to fake or recreate that kind of awfulness. However, I believe that chainsaw mayhem is so woefully underrepresented that any excuse to have a chainsaw wielding maniac on screen must be taken. And what's more, a Pieces remake needs to be Pieces 3-D. I can already see the poster with a chainsaw coming right off the screen (the original poster already has a 3-D vibe of it's own, don't you think?). It doesn't matter that no one knows the original Pieces. If you put Pieces 3-D in theaters, it'll be a number one movie, guaranteed.

2. The Prowler
While the maniac of this film was a romantically spurned WWII vet, still nursing a grudge over the girl that dumped him while he was serving his country, an update of The Prowler would probably have to go with a Vietnam vet. And with that, we're already we're talking about a new category of scary. Or maybe the war veteran angle could be dropped altogether. What's really important about The Prowler is that it's called The Prowler - which, for my money, is one of the all-time great slasher movie titles. When you hear The Prowler, it's evocative of everyday, real-world creepiness. You know that The Prowler isn't Jason or Freddy, but some guy lurking around your bushes (they don't actually call The Prowler "the prowler" during the course of the original movie but the remake can rectify that - you can't forget to properly brand your maniacs!). Oh, and he still has to have a pitchfork because that's the other great thing about The Prowler - the guy uses a pitchfork. Yeah, he busts out a knife too, but the pitchfork is what sticks in my mind. Say, can we use 3-D with The Prowler, too? I don't know - which would be better in 3-D? A chainsaw or a pitchfork? Shit, my head's gonna explode!

1. Curtains
Why this movie must be remade is that it has one of the all-time scariest slasher movie moments where a young woman is skating on a frozen pond as a killer wearing an old hag mask skates towards her in broad daylight with a scythe in hand. This scene is great (how the killer skates across the entire pond to pursue this girl, rather than sneaking up on her in a less open area, is what's striking about it) but I always felt it needed to belong to a much better movie! The storyline of Curtains, with a group of actresses at a remote home all competing for a part in a movie (with one actress breaking out of an asylum to join the party), isn't bad (today, it'd be a reality show) but while it does have its moments (well, one great one, at least), the opportunity to make "the ultimate nightmare," as the ads promised, is still there. Oh, and a creepy, sad-faced doll also figures into the M.O. of Curtains' killer and creepy, sad-faced dolls are an evergreen source of terror.

If these all sound like awful ideas to you, well, so be it. I'm sure we can find common ground elsewhere. But honestly, wouldn't it just be easier to agree with me that Pieces 3-D sounds awesome?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sorority Row

If My Bloody Valentine (1981) is regarded as a second-tier slasher film, then the little-seen shocker House on Sorority Row (1983) is third-tier, at best. That's not a knock against its quality, just an acknowledgement that outside of diehard slasher fans hardly anyone is aware that it exists. Few viewers under the age of thirty (or even many of those over that age) who attend Sorority Row this weekend will have any clue that they're watching a remake. And for those that do know the original, they'll see as a remake in name only. Outside of its college setting and the fact that its sorority sister protagonists try to cover up an accidental murder, the two films are completely different.

I liked this remake quite a bit - about as much as I did My Bloody Valentine 3-D. If you liked that movie, you might like this one too. In both cases, I find it ironic that lesser slasher films like MBV and HoSR were better served by their remakes than slasher royalty like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th were. With both MBV 3-D and Sorority Row, neither are great films but they display an understanding of what slasher fans enjoy about the genre and they aren't pitched outside of that audience. As a slasher fan, I'm ok with that.

Sorority Row director Stewart Hendler is clearly capable but he's smart enough to not forget that he's making a formula film. Writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger likewise give their characters plenty of acerbic, funny lines to throw at each other (the biggest bitch of the sorority, Leah Pipes, is especially good) but in regards to its plotting Sorority Row follows the same story beats as any other slasher film. If you feel like you've had it with slasher films, then this won't change your mind. Personally, I had a lot of fun with it. Some people have a special affection for Westerns, or musicals, or war pictures. I like slasher movies. Those are the films that were huge when I was really getting into horror and they'll always hold a nostalgic appeal to me. And when a new film like Sorority Row gets the formula right, I consider that a good time at the movies.

Click over to Shock Till You Drop for my full review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Supernatural Feats

Chronicling the cross-country adventures of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they travel the US in a '67 Chevy Impala battling all manner of demons, ghosts, and assorted urban legends with a trunk full of weapons and a handy knowledge of the arcane passed down from their dad John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Supernatural was initially referred to by many TV critics as The Hardy Boys Meet The X-Files. While on some level, that glib description was accurate (just as it wouldn't have been completely wrong to initially describe The X-Files as Dragnet Meets Project U.F.O.), it should now be said that Supernatural has come to rank with the best of TV horror. Not just today's best, but the all-time best. With its fifth season premiere airing tonight at 9 on the CW, here's five reasons why, if you aren't doing so yet, you ought to be watching Supernatural.

5. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki
Technically that's two reasons, but in Supernatural you can't have one without the other. Without these two, Supernatural would've been dead in the water years ago. As good as the rest of the show might be in regards to writing, directing, and production values (and it's very good in all these areas), without the wholly believable interaction of its two leads, there wouldn't be a reason to watch week after week. While at first glance, Ackles (Dean) and Padalecki (Sam) might seem like blandly photogenic leads, it doesn't take long in their company to realize that these two have real acting chops. From the beginning, they've anchored Supernatural by creating the unmistakable chemistry of real-life siblings.

4. It's Not All About Pretty Faces
While Ackles and Padalecki wouldn't go hungry living off their looks, and as lovely as their female co-stars can be, Supernatural has never been about youth and beauty. Sam and Dean are following in their father's footsteps as part of an underground group of demon hunters and that world is full of grizzled faces. By casting character actors like Jim Beaver, Steven Williams, Mitch Pileggi, and Michael Massee as members of their dad's generation of hunters, Supernatural reminds us that if Dean and Sam do manage to live to be old, or even middle-aged, that they'll be wearing all the hard-fought mileage of those years.

3. It's Not Lost Up Its Own Ass
While Supernatural does feature season-long arcs (much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did), the show's creator and executive producer Eric Kripke also knows the value of single episode, done-in-one storytelling. It reminds me of the unassuming genre shows from the late '80s and early '90s that I used to love like Werewolf, Friday the 13th: The Series, Forever Knight and the early X-Files where it wasn't about waiting five years or more for a pay-off. If you miss that kind of succinct storytelling, you can find it in Supernatural. Even though it's on its fifth year, new viewers don't have to feel like they'll be too lost in long-running storylines to catch up and viewers who have been watching the show from the beginning don't feel like they've been strung along.

2. It's Hardcore About Horror
This is not Buffy, or Angel, or Charmed. This isn't even the sci-fi horror of The X-Files. This is a full-blooded horror series that pulls no punches. I'm constantly shocked at the level of violence that gets through on the show (the grisliest episode to date may be "Time On My Side" from Season Three with Billy Drago as a 17th century doctor who has discovered a ghoulish way to achieve immortality). While there's obviously some concessions to TV standards, I'd put the show on equal footing with most R-rated horror fare. And supremely eerie episodes like "Faith" (Season One), "Everyone Loves A Clown" (Season Two), "The Kids Are Alright" (Season Three) and "Family Remains" (Season Four) prove that Supernatural doesn't depend on gore for its scares. Oh, and it also has the best monsters on TV.

1. It's One For The Ages
Although it's still a cult show rather than an X-Files or Lost-type cultural phenomenon, what I'm sure of is that new fans will be discovering Supernatural for years to come. Even if Kripke and co. roll a gutterball with this season (which I'm betting they don't), Supernatural has already earned its place in the pantheon of great horror shows. While it began as a slick and entertaining 'monster of the week' program, over the last two seasons it's mythology has become richer (without becoming convoluted), the relationship between Sam and Dean has become more complex, and in blurring the line between good and evil and in being more ready to embrace life's melancholy (as in such episodes as "Metamorphosis", "Wishful Thinking", and "Afterschool Special"), Supernatural has shown an increased level of emotional sophistication.

Kripke has said that his plan has been to end Supernatural for good at the end of the fifth season. But with the show becoming more popular, that may not be possible. Still, no matter what happens after Season Five, the fact that the series has lasted this long (remember that the new Night Stalker debuted in 2005 as well and quickly vanished) and been so consistently good is a feat that has bordered on the, well, supernatural.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"This Is A Motion Picture About Uxoricide!"

To see the William Castle-directed thriller I Saw What You Did (1965) today is to be nostalgic for a time when it was still possible to innocently prank strangers over the phone. Whereas today, bored teenagers can no longer entertain themselves by randomly harassing people without being exposed through caller ID, I Saw What You Did exists as a reminder of when you could call any number without impunity. Well, almost any number. As a cautionary tale, I Saw What You Did shows the consequences that two teenage girls face when they accidentally make a murderer believe that they know too much.

As I Saw What You Did begins, the parents of teenaged Libby (Andi Garrett) and her younger sister Tess (Sharyl Locke) are heading out of town for the night and Libby's friend Kit (Sarah Lane) is coming by for a few hours to visit. Libby's parents had hired someone to stay with the girls but this sitter inconveniently cancels at the last moment, leaving Libby's parents with a decision to make - call off their plans and stay home or trust Libby to be in charge of the household. After some pleading by Libby, they agree to leave the girls alone in the remote, fog-shrouded house. It isn't long before Libby's parents have left, though, before Libby and Tess introduce Kit to one of their favorite past times - picking names at random out of the phone book to prank call.

Libby, Tess, and Kit burn up the phone lines for hours, cracking themselves up with each call. Putting on a deep, sexy voice, Libby asks for the man of the house by name if a woman should pick up - a tried and true bit that rarely fails to get a reaction. But as the night goes on, they adopt a new tactic. When someone answers, they say "I saw what you did and I know who you are." This proves to be a winner - except when they dial Steve Marak (John Ireland). In that case, it turns out to be the wrong thing to say because he's just murdered his wife (the act of uxoricide, as the film's posters noted in a helpful bit of vocabulary building).

An efficiently taut suspenser, I Saw What You Did plays out like an extended episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Even though what these kids are doing is obnoxious, Garrett, Locke, and Lane are instantly, irresistibly likable. There's no malice in their behavior, just mischief. Sure, they're up to no good but not in a way where you're looking for them to get served their comeuppance. Garrett and Lane are personable heroines with Locke being the rare movie kid who isn't a grating presence. These three giggling girls make for good company and the idea of them being at risk becomes genuinely nerve-wracking.

As the movie's villain, John Ireland's Steve Marak is an atypical bad guy. He's not a psychopath, he's not a mastermind, he's just a guy who killed his wife (in a scene that's shocking in its violence for a 1965 film). And more than having to deal with Libby, Kit and Tess, Marek's biggest problem - outside of disposing of his wife's body - is fending off his romantically obsessed neighbor, Amy Nelson (Joan Crawford, who had just starred in Straight-Jacket for Castle). Whatever it is that Marak's got, Amy wants it bad. And she's not going to stop until she gets it. Crawford portrays Amy as desperate, needy woman and her dogged pursuit of Marak is enough to make this cold-blooded killer sympathetic. Ireland is a man of semi-mature years himself but Crawford was sixty at the time (and looking every haggard day of those years) and watching this boozed-up old bag refuse to let her last, best chance for a man shrug off her advances is an entertaining spectacle. Her confrontation with Libby, who she misconstrues as a romantic rival, shows that Amy might be capable of murder herself. No little tramp is going to get the best of this ancient beast and if she doesn't back off, Libby will have the claw marks to prove it!

Eventually, though, the nail-biting tension of Marak's love life takes a backseat to the game of cat and mouse between Marak and the girls and Castle makes the most of this climatic showdown. I believe that this film could play in any theater today and still have the audience on the edge of their seats. Whether in 1965 or 2009, it's not violence that scares an audience, it's the anticipation of violence and seeing characters they've come to care about placed in peril. Castle wrings plenty of suspense out of the final scenes without dragging the film out a second past where it needs to end. I Saw What You Did wasn't one of Castle's bigger successes at the time but I think it's dated better than some of his better-known titles like 13 Ghosts (1960) and The Tingler (1959). Garrett, Lane, and Locke didn't go on to bigger acting careers, sadly, but their chemistry and natural appeal give I Saw What You Did much of its charm.

Word is a remake is in the works courtesy of the My Bloody Valentine 3-D duo of Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer (I Saw What You Did was actually already remade once in 1988 as a TV movie, directed by When A Stranger Calls' Fred Walton). And even though it sounds like a tricky proposition given today's technology, I don't think that the scares of I Saw What You Did need to stay in the age of rotary dial.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dimension's Dark Decline

Being completely outside the world of film, when it comes to the business of Hollywood, I only know what I read in the entertainment press. However, while I'm no inside authority, the news that Bob and Harvey Weinstein's Dimension Films - along with the entirety of The Weinstein Company - is facing grim times (as reported by Deadline Hollywood) has me thinking of the often-exasperating history of what began as a genre label of Miramax Films. In the early '90s, when I first started noticing the Dimension logo on films like Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (both 1992), even though the movies themselves weren't stellar, it was still encouraging to see a dedicated new provider of horror movies at a time when studios were reluctant to embrace the genre. At the time I thought, hey, give 'em a chance - these guys are bound to start putting out better films.

And from time to time, those better films did come along. Thanks to Dimension, I got to see at least one Stuart Gordon movie in the theaters (Fortress, 1993). And in 1994, they released The Crow which was pretty sweet. In the mid-'90s, they were on kind of a roll with The Prophecy (1995), Scream (1996), and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and in recent years, there's been favorites bearing their imprint like The Others (2001), Grindhouse (2007) and The Mist (2008). However, over the course of all these years, the ratio of quality to shit in Dimension's catalog has been impossible to ignore. And their handling of franchises like Children of the Corn, The Crow, Highlander, Hellraiser, and (in particular) Halloween has often been infuriating.

But history may show that the Weinstein's all-time fuck-up move was to roll the dice on Rob Zombie a second time with Halloween II. While the Weinsteins had some success with Zombie's 2007 reboot of Halloween, that film had the novelty of being the restart of the franchise - an event that was going to bring in a flock of curious fans regardless. And by telling the origin of Michael Myers, Halloween '07 also had the semblance of a story to it. But Halloween II is a disaster on nearly every level and the Weinsteins have only themselves to blame for letting it happen. Was the negative reaction to Zombie's first Halloween (not a universally negative reaction but more than enough to be a cause for concern) something they thought they could completely discount? I can't blame Rob Zombie for making Halloween II his way but I can't believe that this project ever looked to the Weinsteins like anything but a death-knell.

Maybe the debacle of Halloween II just at the moment when their company needed a big success is karma for the Weinstein's long-running abuse of the Halloween franchise (1998's Halloween: H20 being the rare Halloween under their stewardship to respect the series' history and gild its legacy rather than trash it) but regardless, making a Halloween that was only appealing to the Rob Zombie faithful looks a lot like suicide. And to put Halloween II in a game of box office chicken with The Final Destination when they could've easily moved to a more advantageous release date was just begging to lose and to lose hard.

While Zombie's sequel has found some admirers, I think most paying customers feel that Zombie fucked them in the ass and to quote The Big Lebowski (1997), "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!" What's galling about both of Zombie's Halloween movies - but II especially - is the contempt that it shows for anyone who is so conventional-minded as to actually come to the theater hoping to see a Halloween film that is suspenseful and scary. I mean, there hasn't been much luck on that front in awhile but for Zombie to at least have tried would've been sporting of him. And personally, I don't see anything in Halloween II that makes me think he did. It's not a bad film because it's not Carpenter's vision of these characters, it's bad because Zombie is a capable visual stylist who has a poor aptitude for writing.

Zombie has said that he wanted to make Laurie and Annie come off as traumatized by their previous run-in with Michael Myers but apparently the entire population of Haddonfield was also attacked by a serial killer as there's nothing to differentiate Laurie and Annie from the rest of the town. Everyone looks and talks exactly the same (and I defy anyone to tell me how the squalid living quarters of Sheriff Brackett's house looks any different from the squalid apartment of Laurie's friends, the dishevelled record store that she works at, or the trashy interior of the Rabbit In Red Lounge). If Zombie really wanted to show how Laurie and Annie have been drastically altered by their ordeal, he needed to show how their lives now contrast against the 'straight' world. To have Laurie and Annie attending college classes or working jobs side-by-side with peers who are optimistic about their lives and their futures, oblivious to the darkness that Laurie and Annie carry with them could've set up a poignant portrayal of both girls (as would the introduction of new romantic relationships, hampered by the girl's emotional baggage). But if anything, it looks as though Laurie and Annie (particularly Laurie) have finally found their niche in the world thanks to their lives taking a dark turn. It makes one wonder how these girls ever fit into the Haddonfield social scene before.

Zombie's done with Halloween now (well, at least it looks that way - remember that he swore up and down after the release of Halloween that he wouldn't do a second film) but rather than hiring Zombie and letting the chips fall where they may, I think Dimension should've shown more concern from the start towards rebooting the Halloween franchise the right way. I know some believe that Zombie should be commended for doing something different but I think his revisionist approach only put the series into a worse corner than it already was (and it didn't result in very good films, either - even if assessed strictly on their own terms). There's no reason why a venerable horror series like Halloween couldn't be relaunched with the same quality control that James Bond and Batman were shown with Casino Royale and Batman Begins (I can imagine directors like The Stepfather's Joseph Ruben or The Strangers' Bryan Bertino doing well with Halloween) but as long as companies like Dimension don't care enough to match the right talent with the right franchise, it won't happen.

And to me, that just seems like bad business.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rambo + Predator + Silent Rage + Wes Craven's Mind Ripper = Holy Shit!

All previous definitions of 'awesome' have been destroyed and replaced by the above document. All references to 'awesome' should be updated accordingly.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Final Destination

Whenever a new 3-D film is announced, I inevitably see comments online from fans griping about how 3-D is just a gimmick and a cheap fad. These complaints always strike me as hilarious - especially coming from horror fans. When people whose movie collections are likely home to a lot of straight-up garbage are so concerned about the sanctity of cinema, that's some funny shit! I mean, honestly, as a horror fan whose own movie collection is brimming with B-movie detritus, I feel like I should be the last person to bitch about how 3-D, of all things, is eroding the quality of modern movies.

But if you do have a stick up your ass about 3-D, The Final Destination will vindicate all your bitter complaints about the format. This is a film that has no reason to exist outside of exploiting the 3-D experience. Up until now, this year's My Bloody Valentine 3-D was the best modern 3-D horror film (not that it had much competition) but while MBV 3-D may remain the better film overall, The Final Destination is really the 3-D horror film I've always wanted to see.

When 3-D briefly came back in the early '80s, I was too young to see R-rated films but I knew that in Parasite ("the first futuristic monster movie in 3-D!" as the posters claimed) there was a scene where someone was impaled with a length of pipe and that blood dripped out of it over the audience (nice!). And I was told that in Friday the 13th Part 3, Jason squeezed someone's head so hard that one of their eyeballs popped out of their head and off of the screen (eeaugh!). As a thirteen-year-old in 1982, I couldn't believe how incredible these movies sounded! 3-D gore was where it was at! Sadly, though, it didn't take long for the 3-D craze to fade out. But as soon as I saw how much the technology had advanced with Beowulf (2007), I knew that 3-D would be coming back in a big way. And where there's 3-D, there's always 3-D horror films.

Some would say that The Final Destination lacks interesting characters, an involving storyline, or any imagination outside of its scenes of slaughter. And they'd be right. But then again, this is a movie where someone is slammed into a wire fence with such force that diamond-shaped chunks of their body are squeezed through it and these bloody chunks then come loose and fall into the audience. That's where this movie's priorities lie and if you don't recognize that, you need more than 3-D glasses to see. To the credit of director David R. Ellis (encoring from 2003's Final Destination 2) and screenwriter Eric Bress, though, The Final Destination is always smartly self-aware. Whatever faults you might cite about this movie will not be news to its makers. What Ellis and Bress do well here - outside of expertly exploiting the 3-D - is have fun playing up the ghoulishness of the series (the opening credits are brilliant, replaying in X-Ray vision several deaths from the previous FD installments) and gleefully prolonging the audience's expectations of when and how each character will meet their maker. This is an aspect of the series that I think has been its strong suit all along, the constant reminder that death is always around us, hiding in plain sight. No matter what harrowing death one might escape, another one is waiting in the wings.

While I liked My Bloody Valentine 3-D, I think the makers of MBV 3-D felt some reluctance at their film being tagged as a cheesy 3-D horror movie and so they kept the reminders that it was a 3-D film in check. MBV 3-D was still a lot of fun just the same but thankfully the makers of The Final Destination aren't as worried that you might think their movie is disposable junk. In fact, they make it impossible to see it any other way. In the course of its slim 82 minutes, The Final Destination is out to claim the 3-D horror crown and even though it pretty much earns that honor in the first ten minutes, director Ellis doesn't take his win for granted. Instead, he acts like he has competition on his ass right up until the end credits.

Notably, The Final Destination is the first FD movie to deliver a rousing climax. Even in Ellis' otherwise exciting FD2, the film disappointingly petered out before the end but in this fourth go-round, FD's producers have learned to save something good for last. Here, there's a climatic scene inside a mall that rivals the opening race track disaster. Perhaps realizing that this would be the last of the series, the producers wanted to ensure a spectacular farewell. But while some would say this 3-D blowout should mark the natural end of the series, I think there's one more date with death that still has to be met. Let me just put a bug in the ear of FD's producers now for Final Destination 2012: Death's Big Score. The series needs to leave us with one final lesson: if you're going to die, let it be epic.