Tuesday, November 30, 2010

That Horror Show

If you've never watched That Metal Show on VH-1 Classic, it's an hour-long talk show devoted to all things metal - The Tonight Show for headbangers. DJ Eddie Trunk is joined by co-hosts Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson as they discuss and debate the hard questions like which of Ozzy's first two solo albums is better - Blizzard of Ozz or Diary of a Madman (I've got to go with Blizzard - it's just too classic).

Guests from the metal world, like Scott Ian, Rob Halford, and Alice Cooper among others stop by to reflect on past glories and discuss their current and future projects and for metal fans, it all adds up to an entertaining hour of TV. But as I was watching TMS recently, the thought occurred to me - why couldn't a similar program be done for horror?

Maybe I'm biased but I think an hour-long show devoted to horror in film, TV, books, and comics would be a huge hit. Do it in the laid-back, just-guys-talking style of TMS where you have a trio of personalities who all know their stuff riffing on various topics, giving their unvarnished opinions, and bring in guests from all corners of the genre community - everyone from Robert Englund to Guillermo del Toro to Elvira - and you've got a show that I know I'd enjoy, at least.

There's a handful of people from the genre world who would be naturals to host a show like this - everyone from Mick Garris (who's currently hosting the online series of interviews Post-Mortem) to the likes of Joe Lynch, Adam Green, and Eli Roth (Lynch and Green recorded an audio commentary together for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Roth has been interviewed for Bravo's Scariest Movie Moments specials as well as being included in the roster of commentators on Joe Dante's Trailers from Hell site). Then there's personalities from the internet community like Shock Till You Drop's Ryan Turek and Dread Central's Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton. Fango editor Chris Alexander would probably also be a choice candidate for a program like this.

A horror riff on TMS will likely never come to pass but hey, it's not impossible. Maybe a talent search for the hosts would be the way to go. I just know that somewhere out there, fans like these are waiting for a chance to interview their idols:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let The Right Remakes In

In his Entertainment Weekly column, Stephen King named Let Me In as not just the best movie of the year but the best horror movie of the decade. I wasn't nearly as high on the movie myself but I did like it a lot and would've liked it that much more without the distracting, CG-abetted scampering of Abby, the vampire. But overall it was good stuff - the only American vampire movie worth a damn since Shadow of the Vampire (2000).

While King's praise for Let Me In might be just a little over-the-top, in my estimation, I do think the movie deserved to have been given more of a chance by the horror community who, by and large, shunned it on principle. Remakes continue to be regarded with suspicion and it's a shame when a quality one suffers. Whenever someone tries to champion remakes, The Thing and The Fly are constantly cited but I think bringing up the same two examples from over twenty years ago to prove that, hey, some remakes are good just makes it easier to dismiss the new stuff. You don't have to go back to the '80s to find quality remakes. Hell, you don't even have to go back to the '90s.

Here's ten recent remakes that I think match, or better, the originals:

The Ring (2002)

It used to border on blasphemy to say you preferred the US remake to Hideo Nakata's Ringu (1998) but quite so much now. When the remake was announced, I was really skeptical towards it. Ringu's story seemed so specific to the Japanese culture that I expected that it couldn't help but be a bad fit when transported to America. But director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Ehren Kruger nailed it, I thought, by making some very smart choices and overall, I do prefer this over Nakata's version. Just the scene on the ferry alone puts it over the top for me.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

This is still Zack Synder's best movie and the best of the new millennium run of zombie films. Synder and writer James Gunn give enough of a nod to Romero's film to be respectful but their Dawn is its own thing. It'll never supplant Romero's original - at least not in my eyes - but I love it because it has scenes that had never been able to be accomplished in a zombie film before (as when a virtual sea of the undead mob the survivor's fortified escape vehicles) because they had always been low-budget affairs.

House of Wax (2005)

Director Jaume Collet-Serra won some acclaim with his instant cult classic Orphan (2009) but before that he made House of Wax into a superior, stylish slasher film. After a slow build-up, once the film's gaggle of teens stumble into an isolated town populated by wax figures, the movie goes full-tilt through some truly ghastly death scenes (and one truly crowd-pleasing one as Paris Hilton's character meets her end) until the outrageous finale set inside a literal house of wax as it melts down in a raging blaze. Technically, this is more a remake of 1979's Tourist Trap (sans telekinesis) than of the Vincent Price classic but damn, what a great Tourist Trap remake it is!

The Amityville Horror (2005)

If you were around in 1979 for the release of the original Amityville Horror and were, like, eight at the time, chances are you've still got a soft spot for it. Without nostalgia on its side, though, the original Amityville is not an especially good movie. In fact, it's kind of lousy. Some fans say the Texas Chainsaw remake was Platinum Dunes' best effort but while that had its moments, TCM '03 just doesn't stack up to Tobe Hooper's original. On the other hand, even though James Brolin sported a way better beard than Ryan Reynolds, it's pretty easy to argue that this new Amityville trumped its predecessor.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Steven Spielberg just doesn't get enough credit, the poor guy. With his remake of War of the Worlds, he went ahead and made the best alien invasion movie since I don't know when but yet you hardly ever hear about what a terrific, scary movie this is. Sure, the last minute reappearance of the older brother was a misstep but other than that ill-considered reach for an upbeat ending, this was really harrowing stuff. And it portrayed the Everyman perspective of an alien attack so much more effectively than, say, Cloverfield.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

The Hills Have Eyes remake came in at just the right time, smack in the middle of the torture-porn era, when it was suddenly ok for horror to play rough again. I don't think this is a perfect movie (neither was the original) but director Alexandre Aja makes you feel that he isn't just playing games here. True to the spirit of the first film, he made his Hills a vicious, unapologetic horror film.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009)

The first of the new wave of 3-D horror films is still the best, thanks to the fact that, unlike The Final Destination and Piranha, MBV was actually filmed in 3-D. In revisiting "the horror from long time ago," as described in The Ballad of Harry Warden, scripter Todd Farmer and director Patrick Lussier showed a solid grasp of what kind of movie a MBV remake should be, keeping fans from spending "the fourteenth in quiet regret." The remake is slicker than the 1981 original but it retains the earlier film's working class setting and I love the audacious handling of the film's central mystery - deceiving viewers with a full-on cheat that makes it impossible to be ahead of the final reveal. That might not sit well with some but I appreciated the guessing game Farmer and Lussier's good-natured trickery allowed. Of all the old-school slasher films that've been remade in the past few years - Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night - this was the best, with the enjoyably bitchy 2009 Sorority Row remake coming in second.

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Wes Craven may be losing it when it comes to making original movies but he sure knows how to bring his old classics back in style. After his success producing the Hills Have Eyes remake, he helped make this retelling of his most notorious movie into an arguably better film then the original. I respect Craven's 1972 original for its hallowed place in the annals of exploitation but I've never cared for it. Because of the subject matter, I don't care for the remake much more but I acknowledge that in most every way it's a better film. Most admirers of this film stop short of saying anything good about the final scene but I'll go ahead and say that I liked it. If someone wants to take out the scumbag that raped their daughter, paralyzing them and then exploding their head in a microwave oven seems like a plan to me. More importantly, since when do horror fans not applaud when a movie ends with an exploding head? Shit, that's how they should all end!

The Crazies (2010)

I'm sure a fresh viewing of Romero's 1973 original would make this remake seem even more simplistic to me but I can't deny that I had a blast with this lean, effective retelling. On the negative side, there's about a half-dozen jump scares too many, and its characters keep getting put into tight jams only to be conveniently rescued but I liked the no-nonsense approach of director Brent Eisner, the uniformly solid performances (I thought Timothy Olyphant made for an especially likable protagonist), and movies that play into paranoia towards government and the military are like catnip to me. Crazies for the win!

Let Me In (2010)

The common perception among horror fans seems to be that this remake didn't do well because the horror community stayed away en masse. While I don't doubt that a few horror fans sat this one out, that doesn't make or break a movie (did horror fans want to show their disdain for original movies, too, by passing on Splice?). When it comes to box office success and failure, it's always the general public that decides and this one just didn't appeal to them. You could blame bad marketing but look, a vampire movie starring two prepubescents? That's a hard sell to the average moviegoer, I think.

Oh well. Just call it a loss all around that so few took a chance on Let Me In because it's damn good.

A classic, if you ask Stephen King - someone who knows more than a little about classic vampire tales. But for now I think it's enough to regard Let Me In as above-average. I just hope the next time someone goes ahead and makes a remake as well-crafted as this - strike that, the next time someone makes a movie as well-crafted as this, forget the remake tag - that it doesn't go ignored.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rankin/Bass And The Eye Of The Tiger

Treating my five-year-old son to his first viewings of the Rankin/Bass holiday classic Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) within twenty-four hours of each other has thrown me into a state of stop-motion shock. These are such well-remembered pieces of my childhood that I didn't think either one would look especially dated to me today, even though it's been several decades since my previous viewings. But man, after watching them both again, and practically back-to-back, I had to think "if this is the kind of stuff I grew up on, if this is the kind of stuff that really mesmerized me as a kid..."

"...then damn, I must be old."

I remember watching Jurassic Park in '93 and shedding an invisible (but real) tear for the death of stop-motion. Yeah, it was true that even top of the line stop-motion always suffered from strobing and I knew that, even in 1981, Clash of the Titans had looked hokey as hell next to the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark but still...so many great memories from my childhood had been conjured by stop-motion. Wasn't that worth continuing to put up with some obvious artifice? CGI could never duplicate the natural endearment that came with knowing that a character had been painstaking moved by human hands in order to put one foot in front of the other.

In theory, I still believe that but yet, watching the Rankin/Bass special I can't believe that I used to shit my pants once a year over it, and over all the other holiday specials like it.

And Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger? Harryhausen is a genius, that's undeniable. And I can't forget what an experience it was to see this in the theaters. But this movie looks old to me now in a way that many films that are much older don't, if that makes any sense. You'd never guess that it came out the same summer as Star Wars, that's for sure. On the upside, at least Jane Seymour looked every bit as hot as I'd remembered.

More than being faintly disappointed in the movies, though, I'm a little sad about what my reaction says about myself. Usually I feel that I'm as wide-eyed as I've ever been when it comes to movies. Like, to a fault almost. I feel like I'm too easily won over by films, as long as they cater to some nerdy passion of mine. And passions don't come much nerdier than stop-motion. Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox? Loved them. It helps, of course, that those two were just great movies, period.

Maybe that's it. Maybe their primitive technical qualities really have nothing to do with why Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger seem so creaky and old hat to me now, it's the storytelling. There's a difference between something that appeals to your inner child and something that's just infantile. Sometimes I think I'm oblivious to that difference, but I guess I'm not.*

I was so enchanted by Santa Claus is Comin' To Town and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger as a young kid but I can't help but regard them as corny now and that's a heartbreaker - a reminder of how much time has gone by and how I look at the world with much older eyes now, prone to rolling. But my son liked them just fine, and that's what counts. I just hope we'll be equally dazzled by Tron: Legacy.

*Individual cases may vary.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Popcorn For Thanksgiving

To my fellow US citizens: as you prepare to stuff yourselves at dinner tables across the country tomorrow in celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I suggest that as you feast on turkey that you also leave some room for Popcorn.

Popcorn, a funky, B-movie adoring slasher pic from 1991, is one of those movies that was first discovered by so many fans on VHS that it tends to be forgotten that it played in theaters but it definitely did as I saw it on its opening weekend and liked it immediately. Prior to Popcorn's release, late night TV was deluged with commercials like this:

Upon hitting theaters on February 1st, 1991, Popcorn was fated to be overshadowed at the box office by one of the greatest genre films of the decade, The Silence of the Lambs, which arrived just two weeks later on February 14. Of course, Popcorn was never going to be a blockbuster - regardless of whatever competition it faced - but it looked especially puny next to the high-caliber frights of Silence. Silence was A-class all the way while Popcorn represented horror at its most B-level, right down to their leading ladies. Unlike Jodie Foster, Popcorn star Jill Schoelen - one of the last of the '80s Scream Queens, having starred in The Stepfather (1987) and The Phantom of the Opera (1989) - was a long way from Oscar gold.

But B-movies and their players have their own immortality and Popcorn has steadily built a fanbase over the years. Schoelen stars as Maggie, a film student haunted by fragmented dreams who comes to believe that Laynard Gates, a Manson-esque cult leader who attempted to burn his followers alive, is stalking her inside the old movie house where her class is hosting an all-night horror marathon. As in her other genre efforts, Schoelen makes a game, appealing heroine and the supporting cast has more personality than the average slasher ensemble.

This is likely due to the fact that, as opposed to the slasher films of the early '80s which had usually starred unknowns, new to acting, Popcorn's cast were all seasoned performers. Tom Villard (One Crazy Summer) was pushing forty when he played Toby, and the rest of the young cast - Ivette Soler (now a garden designer and consultant known as The Germinatrix) as Joanie, Malcolm Danare ("Moochie" from Christine) as the wheelchair-bound Bud, and Kelly Jo Minter (Summer School, The People Under The Stairs) as Cheryl - were all in their mid-to-late twenties and had many credits to their names. All were able to make their slightly written Popcorn roles seem a little fuller than they are.

And in the tradition of classic '80s slashers, Popcorn also included some old-school pros in its cast. Following in the footsteps of Donald Pleasence (Halloween), Glenn Ford (Happy Birthday to Me), Leslie Nelson (Prom Night), and Vera Miles (The Dorm That Dripped Blood), Tony Roberts (Annie Hall), Dee Wallace Stone (The Howling), and Ray Walston (Fast Times At Ridgemont High) joined Popcorn's young performers.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Popcorn is that it isn't scary, something that's never good for a horror film. But Popcorn's affectionately observed mock movies, like The Amazing Electrified Man (featuring Bruce Glover) and Mosquito, are dead-on in every detail and the film's wittily conceived slasher scenes, which make lethal use of William Castle-style gimmickry, are worth a chuckle (in the annals of horror cinema, only Popcorn has a character speared by a giant prop mosquito).

Popcorn likely would've been a far better film had Alan Ormsby and Bob Clark, the duo responsible for '70s classics like Deathdream, had stayed with the production in their respective roles of writer/director (replaced during filming by the producers by Mark Herrier, the faux films are all that's left of Ormsby's work, but they show how key his contributions were) and writer and associate producer (Clark had his name taken off Popcorn's credits) but unfortunately we'll never know.

Currently, an effort is underway to not only reissue Popcorn on DVD (until that happens, I'll continue to closely guard my copy) but to also film a retro-documentary as well (check out their production blog here). As all the principal players involved in the film - save sadly for Tom Villard, who passed away in 1994, and Bob Clark, who was killed in a car accident in 2007 - are still alive and well, I hope it happens. In the meantime, check out this recent interview with Jill Schoelen at Late Night Classics. Popcorn may never have the kind of following that other horror films of similar vintage have garnered, but, like its hot, buttered namesake, it's still tasty company for movie fans.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Next Big Thing?

Usually I'd wait until the end of the year to start talking about next year's films but 2010 is coming to such a dull end, with Black Swan being the only film left to look forward to, that we might as well pretend that this year is already over. Sound good to you?

I wouldn't say the genre is in a rut right now - there's been far drier periods than this (you can't say horror is flagging when there's a grisly zombie show on TV that's killing in the ratings) - but it's definitely in transition mode. Found-footage films are continuing to do ok, with The Last Exorcist and Paranormal Activity 2 being the most recent examples, but I think the studios rightly sense the public has a limited appetite for that sub-genre so there won't be a flood of copycats anytime soon. The remake trend has cooled off some, just because most of the "A" titles, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, have already been burned through and the only fear franchise that's on its way up now is Paranormal Activity. At this point, we're waiting for The Next Big Thing to kick off a new cycle and define horror in this decade. Will it happen in 2011?

I don't know - but these are the films I'm most looking forward to next year:


I have no interest in director Darren Lynn Bousman's upcoming remake of Mother's Day. I never cared at all for the ugly, unpleasant original and I think I'll be disliking the remake as well. 11-11-11 has me interested, though. It's based on some hokey numerology nonsense but I'm curious to see how Bousman does with something that's in a more cosmic or supernatural vein.

Apollo 18

I haven't gotten tired of the found-footage genre yet and anything involving government conspiracies and creepy shit about space exploration is all right with me.

The Apparition

I'm all for a good ghost story and I hope that's what this ends up being. I've liked most of Dark Castle's output but outside of Orphan (2009), they've stumbled a little lately and I'd love to see The Apparition be a return to the fun spookshows that got them started.

Area 51

Oren Peli's follow-up to Paranormal Activity has been kept under tight wraps but based on how well Paranormal Activity 2 came together under his guidance, I'm thinking that Peli didn't just have a fluke with his first film and that he can keep delivering the goods. We're overdue for a really scary alien movie so I hope this won't disappoint. On a side note, does anyone remember Hangar 18?

Battle: Los Angeles

If nothing else, we're in for some tasty destruction. The trailers alone eat Skyline for breakfast.

The Cabin in the Woods

I'm going to be optimistic and hope that MGM's troubles will be resolved enough by next year to get Cabin in the Woods into theaters. I just wish they hadn't done the whole post-conversion 3-D thing but whatever.


This Steven Soderbergh-directed tale of the efforts of an all-star cast (including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law) to stop the spread of a lethal virus is being described as an action-thriller but for me, deadly, airborne diseases and epidemic shit always nudges things into the horror realm. Germs are friggin' scary - is there anyone who read The Stand who doesn't think of 'Captain Trips' every time they have a cold? I thought not. And I think this is in 3-D, too - so maybe characters in Contagion will do a lot of sneezing into the camera.

The Darkest Hour

Hey, more aliens! This story of a group of young people who find themselves in the middle of an extraterrestrial invasion of Russia is director Chris Gorak's follow-up to the acclaimed Right At Your Door (2006) so hopefully this will be another strong, scary effort.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

As with Cabin in the Woods, I'm optimistic that this film's studio problems will get resolved and this Guillermo del Toro-produced remake will hit theaters next year.

Dibbuk Box

This is a Ghost House production, which is seldom a sign of quality, but after seven years of Saw, I'm supportive of any and all films that get supernatural frights back into theaters for the Halloween season.

Dream House

When a director known for more prestigious fare like Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father) tackles a genre pic, it's usually an occasion to schedule a nap but the thought of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts starring in a haunted house movie is reason enough for me to be excited.

Drive Angry 3-D

I didn't even know that Nicolas Cage's character was someone that had broken out of Hell until I saw Drive Angry's trailer. I thought he was just supposed to be some angry dude. Once I knew that this movie was steeped in the supernatural, I was all in. Although, to be honest I was already excited for Drive Angry as I really liked what writer Todd Farmer and director Patrick Lussier did with their remake of My Bloody Valentine. Here's hoping they can get a good winning streak going - and keep it going at least through their Hellrasier remake.

Final Destination 5

I guess some people - ok, a lot of people - consider this series to be a big joke but if it's a joke, it's the kind of joke that appeals to me. I love that we're five films in now and it's still always about nothing more than setting up the next kill. And I think it's smart that the producers haven't made the mistake yet of trying to develop a bigger mythology for the series. To me, that would be the real kiss of death.

Fright Night

The original Fright Night has charm to spare and I don't see how this remake can compete in that regard - especially when the character of Peter Vincent is now a Las Vegas magician rather than a former actor turned washed-up horror host. But, I'm still hoping for a fun vampire movie out of this.


Based on the early reviews for Insidious, the Saw team of director James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell might have another giant genre hit with this ghost story. Saw was something I could never get behind but this - this sounds really cool.

Paranormal Activity 3

I would've bet money that PA 2 was going to do a Blair Witch 2-style belly-flop but not only did it do huge business, the movie itself was pretty solid. At the very least, it didn't shit all over what made the first movie great. So while I'm skeptical about the chances of a third film being good, the first sequel has taught me to give 3 the benefit of the doubt.

The Raven

I might be more stoked for this than for any other horror flick next year. It's such a daffy concept - Edgar Allan Poe spending his final days on Earth helping to hunt a serial killer who murders according Poe's own writings - that I'm already in love with this movie. If it ends up being smart, great. If it's completely ridiculous, it's still good. Director James Mc Teigue hasn't had a miss with me yet - I loved V For Vendetta and mostly loved Ninja Assassin - so I'm betting he'll go three for three with this one.

Red State

Kevin Smith has fallen on kind-of hard times lately so maybe this detour into horror will get him some favorable attention. It would've been easy for Smith to go the snarky, ironic Scream-style slasher route if he just wanted to cash in on the genre so the fact that he's going for something more serious here makes me hope it pays off for him.

Rise of the Apes

It's science fiction, yeah, but the Apes movie have always had a strong horror vibe with me. The first two Apes movies, in particular, scared the shit out of me as a kid. And the later, more revolutionary-minded entries, like Escape, Conquest and Battle were disturbing in their own way. Rise of the Apes is reportedly more of a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and that's fine with me. I just hope they don't spare the ape-anger at all. If you're going to go ape, you've got to go ape all the way.

The Rite

Exorcism movies will never go away, even if none of them ever achieve a tenth of the power or success of The Exorcist. This latest entry in the sub-genre looks pretty middle-of-the-road but I thought director Mikael Håfström did a solid job with the King adaptation 1408 so maybe this'll be good stuff, too. And I figure a movie with Anthony Hopkins taking on the devil can't be all bad.

Scream 4

I was more hopeful about this movie before I saw Wes Craven's latest, My Soul To Take. That movie got me real worried. But if the Scream 4 script is strong, I don't see Craven dropping the ball. I'm not the biggest Scream fan - not much of a fan at all, really - but I'd like to see this be a satisfying comeback for the series rather than a case of they should've left well enough alone.

Straw Dogs

A remake of the notorious Sam Peckinpah thriller doesn't seem like such a smart move but I'm still curious to see what was lost and gained in the process.

Super 8

This Spielberg-produced, J.J. Abrams-written and directed alien movie - seriously, what is up with all the alien movies next year? - has top-secret written all over it but just going by the teaser, I'm betting there's something for horror fans to grab onto here.

The Thing
I wish this hadn't gotten pulled from its release date but I'm still confident that this'll prove to be a cool prequel to the Carpenter classic. I would be a lot more down on this project but Strike Entertainment has a solid track record with films like Slither, Children of Men and the Dawn of the Dead remake so I feel like there's a better-than-average chance of this being good. I'm just curious whether all the talk about the FX staying largely practical will turn out to be true.


Any time Kurt Russell does a genre film, it's an automatic event in my book. I'm not sure how dark this supernatural thriller about a private detective who finds himself in a case crossing between the worlds of life and death is going to be but I'm hoping it'll be a real moody, noir-ish affair. On the troubling side, filming on Undying was initally said to begin this fall but I haven't read anything new on it lately - hopefully the project isn't stalled out. If it has, though, maybe John Carpenter can get in there and start the ball rolling again. At least one more Carpenter/Russell collaboration isn't too much to ask for, is it?

If not in 2011, then soon, please.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Serbian Film: Is A Movie Dangerous If No One Watches It?

A common complaint among horror buffs is that the genre became too placid after the rip-roarin' heyday of the early '80s. But a proliferation of PG-13 horror films aside, I don't quite agree that the genre has been watered down. Dumbed down, for sure. Watered down, not so much. If we're just talking about gore, at one time movies as graphic and brutal as Piranha or Saw 3-D would've been cause for public outrage and sure as Hell wouldn't have been able to score R-ratings. Now, neither the public or the MPAA blinks an eye. The tolerance level for violence is so jacked up now that shocking regular movie goers is difficult (although it can still happen - look at the reaction to 127 Hours' grisly amputation scene) and shocking horror buffs is well-nigh impossible. One film that's gone the extra mile to try, though, is A Serbian Film.

Ever since its first public showing this past March at the South by Southwest film festival, A Serbian Film has been singled out as the biggest celluloid atrocity to come along in, well, ever. That the film boasts excellent technical credits is universally agreed on. Whether that makes it art or not is another consideration. I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment on the film itself but just knowing that it's out there raises a question in my mind - is a movie dangerous if no one watches it?

Some people regard A Serbian Film as a sign of the horror genre setting up shop in taboo territory once again but yet if this film is only sought out by the most dedicated purveyors of sick cinema, then it seems like a harmless exercise. Despite the fact that its getting a US release next year (courtesy of Invincible Pictures), even among horror fans, A Serbian Film is only going to get so far. If you're unfamiliar with what A Serbian Film is actually about, take a look at its Wikipedia entry and ask yourself how much you really want to see this movie. I'm guessing probably not so much. And even if you do, it'll only be for the sake of boosting your horror cred.

To the rest of the world, who generally watches movies for entertainment rather than punishment, it will be as if A Serbian Film never existed. That doesn't mean it shouldn't have been made but it does make me wonder what the future of extreme horror will be. Recently, both Hatchet II and the I Spit On Your Grave remake were released unrated and barely made a ripple. Hatchet II was pulled from theaters before its opening weekend was over, an action on the part of AMC Theaters that seemed motivated by audience indifference more than political pressure from the MPAA, while I Spit On Your Grave's limited theatrical run passed without incident. Both films got plenty of good notices in the horror press but in both cases, there wasn't a big turn-out. Some claim that these are the kind of movies that hardcore horror fans are craving but I think the box office performances of these films says otherwise.

Without the mystique that still surrounds the exploitation cinema of the '70s and '80s, films like I Spit On Your Grave '10 can't help but come up empty-handed. If I'm in the mood for a hardcore exploitation film, I'd rather just watch the old stuff. Those movies have a vibe, a natural authenticity, that you just can't fake. I've heard that the new ISOYG has better acting and better production values and so on but that isn't a selling point to me. I think if you have the kind of resources to make a really good movie, you should go do that and not remake ISOYG.

I've never been a fan of the original ISOYG but I've always given it a pass because writer/director Meir Zarchi claimed he made the film in response to a real-life incident where he came across a woman (in NYC's Central Park, I believe) who had just been raped and ISOYG reflected his anger with not only the abuse this woman suffered but also towards the indifferent treatment she received from the authorities when he brought her to a nearby police station. Whether Zarchi was truly making a feminist statement with his film, I don't know. But at least there was a personal motivation behind it. The motivation behind the remake was just to exploit a semi-well known title, which makes it far more unseemly than the original in my eyes.

In its favor, A Serbian Film is purported to have something bigger on its mind other than just cashing in on grindhouse memories. Writer/director Srđan Spasojević has described his film's atrocities as being motivated by the treatment of the Serbian people by its government. This seems like a pretty thin justification for depicting the rape of a newborn baby but hey, I've never lived in Serbia so I'll have to give Spasojević the benefit of the doubt here.

Whatever the motivations were behind A Serbian Film, though - whether the movie is a legitimate political cry of anger or just sick for its own sake - its subject matter will cause it to remain little more than a curiosity, seen only by a small pocket of horror fans. When the most common statement from those who've seen it is that they really, really wished they hadn't, it doesn't seem worth the bragging rights to follow in their footsteps.

With the recent news that the US remake of Martyrs is going to be given a "glimmer of hope," though, perhaps a more palatable version of A Serbian Film is bound to happen, too. Fans of the original, of course, would be up in arms, claiming that people need to see the original. But, honestly, isn't life too short for that? If Spasojević really wanted to call people's attention to the injustices perpetrated by his government, a documentary might've been a better idea. As a horror movie, A Serbian Film is too easy to choose to ignore.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Behold, The Bears!

One of my favorite online destinations over the past few months has been A Thriller A Day, a blog dedicated to reviewing each and every episode of the 60's anthology classic Thriller. I haven't been able to keep up with watching all the episodes but I have followed every blog entry and the accompanying comments, which are just as informative and entertaining as the main posts - thanks to the invaluable input of such knowledgeable types as Gary Gerani, Tom Weaver, and Tim Lucas and to the always genial tone of the discussion, even when it comes to disagreements over sacred cows like "Pigeons from Hell."

Masterminded by Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri, ATAD is something of an anomaly in the internet world - smart, free of snarkiness, and open to contrary opinions. I'd become so attached to ATAD, I was dreading its end - and not just because the end-run of Thrillers had a notorious reputation of being a poor conclusion to the series (a reputation that Enfantino and Scoleri happily found to be only semi-true).

But with all 67 episodes of Thriller now behind them, it's time for Enfantino and Scoleri to move on. The good news is they're moving on to another anthology classic. Beginning the first of next year, Enfantino and Scoleri will be taking on The Outer Limits. Enfantino and Scoleri will be taking a slightly less work heavy approach this time around, reviewing episodes five days a week rather than seven. They'll be joined in their exploration of OL's 49 episode run by David J. Schow, author of The Outer Limits Companion.

I'm really looking forward to this. The Outer Limits is more familiar ground to me than Thriller but I have yet to watch every single episode. Not long ago, I treated myself to the box set in anticipation of one day diving into the entire series. I haven't gotten around to it yet but We Are Controlling Transmission is the perfect incentive to do so. With less duds in its roster than Thriller, following The Outer Limits and its trademark "bears" - the monsters that the series was famous for - with Enfantino, Scoleri, Schow, and co. ought to be a great adventure, full of awe and mystery.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kong For Christmas

By the time the Dino De Laurentiis-produced King Kong remake was released on December 17th, 1976, I was just old enough to be hip to the importance of directors when it came to making movies. Thanks to the massive ballyhoo surrounding Kong's release, De Laurentiis was the first producer I became aware of.

Unfortunately, my disappointment with Kong caused me to forever associate De Laurentiis' name - unfairly, if fondly - with schlock. It didn't help that besides Kong, he produced much more schlock over the years - including Orca (1977), Flash Gordon (1980), and King Kong Lives (1986). It was also hard to take De Laurenttis too seriously when in interviews, many of those who worked with De Laurentiis, like Sam Raimi and Stephen King, would mercilessly - if affectionately - parody the producer's thick Italian accent. De Laurentiis himself didn't help his own cause much with proclamations like the one he made on behalf of his Kong: "When Jaws dies, nobody cries. When Kong dies, they all cry."

During his career, De Laurentiis shepherded many outstanding genre films into existence, like Danger: Diabolik (1967), Barbarella (1968), Conan the Barbarian (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), Manhunter (1986), and Evil Dead 2 (1987) but that counterbalance of cheese was never far away. In the mid-'80s it was especially easy to find De Laurentiis exasperating as - The Dead Zone (1983) aside - he seemed bent on annihilating Stephen King's name with his productions of Firestarter (1984), Cat's Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), and most damaging of all, King's sole directorial outing, Maximum Overdrive (1986).

Before he dragged down King (with King abetting De Laurentiis every step of the way), he worked over Kong real hard. Before King Kong came out, of course, I was as wide-eyed as can be about it. Back then, the idea of a big scale fantasy/horror film was still on the novel side. Yeah, there had been enormous hits like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975) and the Planet of the Apes films but genre films, by and large, were still B-movie material. They weren't the tentpole events that we take for granted today (when the summer movie seasons started to become more and more genre-orientated in the late '70s/early '80s, it was mind-blowing to me). When Peter Jackson did his remake of Kong in 2005, it was a big deal but not that big a deal. It just couldn't seem as newsworthy as the '76 version did.

In '76, Kong was it. That was the movie I had to see. I was into all the merchandise. I had the glasses, a bad-ass cereal bowl (because nothing goes together like Corn Flakes and Kong), you name it.

The US poster, depicting Kong straddling the World Trade Towers, hung above my bed for years, even long after I knew the movie wasn't so good. I saw King Kong in a single screen movie house located in Lancaster, New Hampshire shortly after the film had opened. I was on a family visit to my grandparents for Christmas and my mother knew there was no way I'd be able to wait a few days until we got back to Massachusetts to see Kong.

I loved that old-style movie palace (seeing movies there was always the highlight of my Lancaster visits) but my impressions of Kong weren't good. Where the original was timeless, the new version just seemed too contemporary. Given my age, I have to say I'm kind of surprised that I didn't like it. Seven-year-olds aren't real discerning viewers, and were even less so back then. But I know that I found Jessica Lange really grating and despite Rick Baker's best efforts, Kong himself just didn't look as magical as he had in the original. Outside of all that, though, the bottom line is that nothing in the movie looked quite as incredible as what the posters had promised.

I mean, I still get a smile on my face when I look at this:

Come on, how could anyone not want to see that movie?

Films like Star Wars (1977) and Superman: The Movie (1978) came along over the next year or two and delivered in a way that Kong didn't even come close to but because Kong was the first big genre movie that I was old enough to be aware of ahead of its release and to really look forward to, I'll always have a special affection for it.

I'll tell you, when Peter Jackson did his remake of King Kong (2005) he was right to do it as a period piece - he just picked the wrong period. He shouldn't have bothered trying to bring Kong back to the '30s, where he had already been portrayed to perfection, but back to the '70s where some coolness was still left to be found. Seriously, look at the Japanese poster below, and tell me that you wouldn't have wanted Jackson to make a film that replicated this kind of imagery:

It never would've happened, of course, but I'll always maintain that would've been the better way to go. It might've only appealed to an audience of one but I promise I would've really appreciated the hell out of it! And who knows, with one of the biggest trends of the last decade being remakes of genre films of the '70s - Texas Chain Saw, The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror, Last House on the Left - maybe a remake of the '70s Kong would've actually turned out great.

Some might've considered it in poor taste to bring back the World Trade Towers just for the sake of having a giant monkey climb them - like, in really poor taste - but for others, it might've simply taken them back to a better time.

I know that's how I feel when I look back on Kong '76. It wasn't a great movie, no, but it was part of a great time. Hearing the news of De Laurentiis' passing this week at age 91 made me miss those days all over again.