Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Gone Is Gone

When it is that you encounter certain films determines so much about how you respond to them. For instance, in the early '80s, I was at the perfect age to be smitten with slasher movies. For adult fans, the slasher wave was more of a dreary nuisance rather than anything to celebrate, but in the early '80s, slasher pics were the big forbidden fruit for kids like myself.

I'll confess, though - it wasn't just the gore and the scares that attracted me but at a formative age these films performed the valuable service of offering a window onto the next stages of life I was heading towards - high school, college, young adulthood. For a socially stunted young person curious about what lay ahead in life, movies like Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine were fascinating to me, regardless of how poorly written or acted they might've been. Deeper critical assessments didn't occur to me. I just craved the view into the everyday lives of older kids and young adults that slasher films offered - even if that glimpse would always be truncated by an axe, or machete, or the whole tool shed.

One thing I loved about slasher movies was their ordinariness. You know, even when they were about nerds and outcasts, the John Hughes films had a Hollywood sheen to them but slasher films never had an once of glamminess. He Knows You're Alone (1980) is a perfect example of that. It all takes place in semi-shabby New York locations. Everybody's working class. These were people I recognized.

Hell, they even had glasses from McDonald's!

Watching He Knows You're Alone back in the day used to make me want to live in that world with those people - well, sans the knife wielding maniac, of course. But the rest of it, going to the ice cream shop, the amusement park - all of that was ideal. Now, thirty-plus years later, it all fills me with nostalgia for a world that's vanished. Oh sure, there's still plenty of ice cream shops and amusement parks to be found but the mood is different, the world just isn't the same.

It's ironic that He Knows You're Alone, which was part of such a notorious, controversial trend in movies, now plays as such an innocent - practically gentle! - film. Yes, there's the requisite slasher movie murders to be had but there's not a mean bone in this movie's body. Caitlin O'Heaney plays such a regular person here, the kind of "girl next door" that doesn't really exist on film these days. Horror heroines aren't allowed to be so normal and down to Earth anymore. The same goes for all the people around her who are uncommonly relatable by today's standards - even her kid sister isn't precocious.

It's so rare (impossible?) now to see movie or TV characters who genuinely like each other and who enjoy each other's company without being out to one-up each other in hipster snark or strained, bizarro behavior that the simple friendships and (mostly) innocent courtships portrayed in He Knows You're Alone feel so appealing in their uncool, unfashionable sincerity (even though one of O'Heaney's friends is up to sexual hijinks with their married college professor, it doesn't come across like such a moral blemish on her character).

Back when I started watching slasher films, I was on the brink of adolescence. Now, I'm middle aged. I don't have my whole life ahead of me anymore. But He Knows You're Alone connects me to that time when I still did and when life seemed full of promise and possibilities.

And for that, I continue to love it.

You know?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chainsaw See-Saw

I fought a brief war with myself over whether or not to see Texas Chainsaw 3D. I had a glimmer of interest in it after the poster was released but that was quickly squelched by the first trailer, which looked absymal. So I was very much on the "don't bother" side of the fence. I thought it might be nice for a change to have the first horror movie I saw in 2013 to be something decent - or at least something with a chance of being decent. After all, with Mama due on the 18th I wouldn't have long to wait for a better prospect than Texas Chainsaw to come along.

So for the opening weekend, I sat Chainsaw out. And, as expected, the reports back on it only confirmed my sensible stance. So of course that meant I had to break down and watch it. Call me weak and foolish if you will but I reasoned that, in the end, it might prove to be a wise strategic move. After all, if it was as bad as people were saying, the rest of 2013 couldn't help but look better in comparison.

So was it really that bad? Oh yes, it was. In fact, it was kind of flabbergasting in its idiocy. Having said that, as a connoisseur of slasher cinema, I'm glad that I took the time to check it out. It was awful but it sure wasn't the worst of the Chainsaw series and as schlock goes, I found it giddily entertaining for the most part.

Tobe Hooper's brilliant original certainly deserves better films to carry on its legacy but, clearly, that's not going to happen. The only worthwhile successor to TCM to date remains Hooper's own sequel (a cracked masterpiece in its own right). Everything else has strived for mediocrity and mostly failed to even hit that mark. Of all the major horror franchises, TCM runs neck and neck with The Exorcist in terms of the biggest fail rate. I don't have the time to enumerate all the cataclysmic lapses in logic perpetrated by TC3D but as I watched the movie unfold I found myself helplessly laughing at much of it. But at least laughter means that I dervied some entertainment out of it - even if it's not exactly the kind that the makers were presumably shooting for. But hey, there are a lot of awful films that I slog through without even the slightest chuckle to show for it so I'm giving TC3D due credit for accomplishing something. And I'm sure that as the year goes on, lines like "You came from shit-apes!" (as said by an adoptive father to his twentysomething daughter, who was secretly snatched from the Sawyer clan when she was a baby), "What a fruitcake!" (the professional observation of a cop as he surveys Leatherface's secret lair), and "Do your thing, cuz!" (the context of which I won't reveal) will remain some of my favorite lines of 2013.

Also in the plus column for TC3D is the post-converted footage from the original, which looks pretty stunning in 3D. If not for the fact that there's no way I'd stomach seeing TCM with a modern audience of dipshits under any circumstances, I'd love to see a 3D release of the original. I also liked the assertion this movie makes that the worst thing about Texas isn't a cannibalistic clan of serial killers but rather corrupt redneck politicians. That's a message I can get behind.

This movie has, and will continue to get, a shitload of flack from horror fans who feel that it's nothing less than a desecration of the TCM name (to be fair, it literally is as it doesn't even include the 'M'!) but I guarantee you that had this come out back in the '80s, it would be every bit as fondly recalled as any of the other slasher sequels of that era. I don't mean that it's good, mind you, just that it would be judged by a very different standard. For myself, I'll be judging it by that other yardstick - the same one that lets me enjoy Jason Takes Manhattan. When you're a slasher fan, you have to take your fun where you can get it. And, despite what the tagline to Pieces says, sometimes you do have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre.