Tuesday, September 29, 2009

28 Days Later in one minute

I thought this was cute.

I haven't written anything on 28 Days Later yet, mostly because I'm a bit burned out on zombies and I'm saving it for when the well runs dry, but it's a great zombie movie. The kids at the University of York's film school put this together. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Song of Joy-Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

When most people think of horror in music, people think of the darker end of heavy metal, where graphic imagery and gruesome lyrics assault the audience in a blood-soaked orgy of...something. Indeed, the metal scene and horror fandom seem to walk hand-in-hand, and I've never been to a horror convention that didn't look like the lobby of a Cannibal Corpse concert.

I'm not the world's biggest metal fan. Metalocalypse did a great job of alternately parodying and celebrating the black metal aesthetic, but it's never really been to my taste or sensibilities. Sure, some of the content disturbs me but it seldom scares me. I tend to get my scares from stranger places, and one of the most beautifully chilling songs I've ever heard is Song of Joy by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Released in 1996 on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads album, which was an amazing collection of traditional murder ballads, Song of Joy tells the tale of a drifter who asks a man for shelter from the elements. As the song unfolds, the drifter tells the sad story of his family's murder at the hands of a stranger. As the song goes on and the drifter sinks into madness, we begin to suspect that the singer butchered his family and likely plans to kill the man he seeks shelter from.

I wish I had a bunch of clever stuff to say about this song. It's one of my favorites. I remember first hearing this song as a teenager, when I bought the cassette from a Warehouse music store in Colma, California. This song creeped the hell out of me as I waited for the bus, surrounded by miles of Colma's famous cemeteries. There was something genuinely evil about the song, something that strayed deeper than the shock-lyrics of black metal. It's a great story, frighteningly told, and it touches the strange black part of my soul that loves this stuff. I tried to find a way to embed the song in this post, but the best I could do was provide a link here. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sorority Row

Awright, I wanna start this one off with a big fat spoiler warning: I'm going to talk about the killer's identity. I'm not normally concerned with ess-bombs, but this movie is fresh and there are people who wanna play guess-the-killer. It ain't gonna help; the movie provides no hints or logical clue path and the killer comes completely out of left field. There's some interesting subtextual stuff I want to poke around in, but if you're keen on keeping a few mysteries fresh you may want to skip this review.

In case you haven't guessed, Sorority Row is I Know What You Did Last Summer as well as every other teen-targeted Christopher Pike/R.L. Stine horror novel you've ever read. A bunch of kids are united by a Dark Secret and someone knows it and torments them with it. There's a bunch of social drama mixed in with the slasher carnage and it turns out that some diabolical bastard/bitch is behind all the mayhem.

All in all, Sorority Row is pretty fun. There's absolutely nothing new here and if I had any proper taste I'd probably run from the theater in a cloud of panic and pretension. Eff it. I had a good time. There's a good bit of tension and a few good scares, even if the director LOVES tight, out-of-focus close ups.

Dark Secret slasher flicks tend to be SLIGHTLY more character driven, as we see the people bound by tragedy degenerate under the stress. All this is well and good, but the women in Sorority Row really are assholes. Those that aren't actively self-interested and malicious are either terminally stupid or completely spineless. It's revealed by the end of the movie that each of the girls had done everything short of announcing in the paper their complacency in the homicide. And I'm not entirely sure what the point of the prank that started the whole mess was. Make a guy believe he killed someone and take him out into a quarry? Yeah, that's...uh...wow. Way to pull a fast one.

I have been reading a lot lately that the mainstream horror audience is heavily female. Sorority Row was definitely targeted toward a female audience, and the theater I saw the movie in was full of small clusters of teenage girls. The male characters in the movie are either background noise, glorified accessories, or dangerously incompetent. Sure, the lead sisters are broadly drawn sorority stereotypes, but their relationships are much more realistic. The lead sororitina was pretty and strong and capable, someone you can easily identify with. Finally, Sorority Row ditches the whole puritanical sex-equals-death cliche. Sure, one of the characters is tagged as the movie's slut, but that speaks less to the tropes of the genre and more to the poisonous conformity of sorority life.

Sorority culture isn't actually portrayed very warmly. The initiation rituals and social stuff, especially the bit where the girls inspect pledge's bodies for physical imperfections, is pretty vile. The girls are clearly just killing time until they can make an advantageous society marriage, and two of the main characters are primarily motivated by keeping their menfolk happy. And it becomes pretty clear that all the girl's talk of sisterhood and solidarity is actually pretty meaningless. For want of a better term, the sorority sisters are pretty bitchy. There's usually a few sympathetic characters in these movies, but in this movie you start rooting for the killer pretty early on.

The killer's identity was one of the stranger points of the movie. After all the song and dance, it turns out the guy toting the sharpened tire iron is none other than the final girl's boyfriend, a class valedictorian and all around golden boy. He found out about the crime from one of the others and takes it upon himself to clean up the mess by playing dicky mind-games with the others and killing his way through a graduation party. Granted, all Dark Secret slasher flicks seem to suffer from Third Act Insanity, where every starts acting screwy in an attempt to throw red herrings all over the place, but this was really kind of a stretch. He ultimately had little personal involvement in the whole sordid business and it's kind of a stretch to believe he's killing people for his aloof girlfriend. It's like the dude from Twilight gone bad.

This may be another case of Gibb worship, but my favorite character in the movie was Chug, the drunk party girl. Aside from being the best actor in the movie, her character was the most rich. She was damaged, confident, jaded, and snarky. Of course she was the first one to go.

Oh, the flick features Carrie Fisher in her most badass role since Princess Leah. Sure, she can't aim a shotgun worth shit, but her exiting line is so fucking cool.

So, yeah, that's my two cents. Enjoy the poster, which hearkens back to the awful slasher movie posters from the early 90s where every poster was just a bunch of pretty people looking nervous.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Halloween 1 and 2

There is nothing more controversial in the internet horror community than Rob Zombie's Halloween remakes.

Some people think the are vicious, uncompromising, take-no-prisoners masterpieces of modern horror. Others think they're a travesty of John Carpenter's original work, soaking the eerie horror of Michael Myers in Zombie's white-trash aesthetic. Either way, ever since the "hobo Myers" images released some months back, the boards at Bloody-Disgusting have been essentially one big screaming match. Because of that, I can't really write this essay in a vacuum.

I didn't like Zombie's Halloween remake much. I do think humanizing Michael Myers removes a lot of the mystique of the character, Zombie's shock-offensive dialogue sounded ugly and unnatural coming out of the mouths of innocent teenagers, and the jump in focus from Myers to Laurie Strode resulted in a movie that felt like it was missing its center. Despite all this, I can't seem to stop myself from watching the movie every few months or so. Underneath the problems I have with Halloween, it was clearly made with an enthusiasm that makes the experience infectious.

That pretty much describes my feelings toward this new one.

I was kinda optimistic, despite all the hobo/maskless Myers stuff. The trailers hinted at a supernatural angle, which I really missed in the original. The trailers emphasized a supernatural element, something I felt was missing in the original. Michael Myers's life, crimes, and death were all pitifully human. It made him a psycho, but it really didn't make him a monster. This one appeared to have Michael Myers' mother commanding him to kill Laurie and reunite the family in death. Sure, that doesn't really jibe with his mother's nicer incarnation in the earlier movie, but at least he's got some of his old mojo back.

I think Zombie has a lot of potential. The Devil's Rejects was a helluva movie and I like directors who take their horror seriously. Having said that, the dude does have a white trash aesthetic that doesn't necessarily jibe with the subject matter. When he's writing a bunch of outlaw banditos the dialogue works, but when he's writing teenagers in a small suburban community he completely misses. This is where I get all "but it's not the Halloween I rememmmmmberrrrr..." but I always remembered Haddonfield as a boring suburb, not a rotted meth-lab town. I don't remember Laurie Strode talking like an angry metalhead trying to shock her parents. This is kind of a goofy thing to say about a horror movie, but it's all meaner and uglier than I want it to be.

One of the core problems of the remakes is Zombie puts too much focus on too many characters. The movie would have been better served with following Laurie bouncing between her, Myers, and Dr. Loomis. The iconic Dr. Loomis really gets the short end of the stick here, as he spends the movie being unpleasant until he dies for no reason.

Speaking of unpleasant...

I do have to give credit to Rob Zombie and Scout Taylor Compton for making Laurie Strode's damaged mental state believable. The best final girls, from the original Laurie Strode to Scream's Sydney Prescott are all traumatized by their experiences. They become isolated, suspicious, and destructive, and their vulnerabilities become as much of a challenge as the maniacs that stalk them. Zombie's Laurie Strode is a very honest portrayal of how a terrified young woman would behave. She fluctuates from chaotic to destroyed, and it's a really good portrayal. Unfortunately, she's not particularly likable. I liked her room mate/friend Annie Brackett better.

I gotta get this out of the way: I have a HUGE crush on Danielle Harris, the actress who played Annie Brackett. I keep meaning to write a big I HEART DH article on her, but the long and the short is I think she's more adorable than a basket of bunnies, even Professor Demon Bunny.

But Annie comes off as a much more sympathetic and likable character than Laurie. She's much more composed, much more confident, and much more capable than Laurie, even though she was arguably put through far worse in the first film. I thought it was interesting that she lived with and took care of Laurie, but was not in her social circle anymore. She even occasionally seemed exasperated with Laurie's behavior, which wouldn't have been out of line given that Laurie seemed to go gutter-punk chic.

So having Michael Myers rape and butcher her was a little bit much.

We all knew she was going to die. The trailer shows her running away from Myers. But Myers goes a step further and rapes her. It's not entirely out of character, as Zombie's Myers is a much angrier and more vicious creature, but raping Annie took the character and the story into a much uglier direction.

Horror creators have a symbiotic relationship to their creations. Brian Pulido looked very similar to his Evil Ernie and Michaeal Myers looks kinda like Rob Zombie on steroids. I do kinda wonder what compelled Zombie to include such a scene.

Beyond that, quibbles. Why did Myers show up to the party, zero in on Laurie's one friend, and disappear after murdering her? Why is Mrs. Myers such an evil bitch now after being such a nice person in the original? What exactly was Dr. Loomis thinking when he entered that shack in the end? What was with all the goddamn close-ups?

Whatever. Despite all the grips, I'm still gonna see it again and I'm probably gonna own the DVD. Unkle Lancifer at Kindertrauma wrote an amazing article defending the movie. Also, here's a Rob Zombie interview. Finally, here's the cream-of-the-crop of the horror blogadoo world weighing in on Old vs. New Myers. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Final Destination (3D)

Man, they're just not trying anymore.

At this point, no one is even pretending that the Final Destination series is anything but a morbidly wicked exercise in crazy-ass Rube Goldberg death scenes. The characters are interchangeable and inconsistent, the "plot" consists of a bunch of death scenes followed by the same panicky exposition bits. This one has the formula stripped down to the bones. I didn't give a shit about anyone in the flick and each death was more gruesome and perverse than the last.

Despite all this, I had a good time watching it.

Without the 3D, this movie would have felt like a direct-to-DVD flick. There's zero suspense and the gore is pretty over-the-top and hammy. Most of the story construction is pretty perfunctory and the film has a sense of the outrageous that you get from enthusiastic amateurs. Still, I got to watch it on a bit screen with car parts flying around and nifty x-ray montages of previous deaths over the opening credits. Also, they toned down the overt sadism of the second movie, which was a huge turn-off for me.

The Final Destination series is basically about the fear of accidental death. You're bumbling along, doing your thing, then some asshole drunk driver rear ends you. Maybe you make it, maybe you don't, but the question inevitably becomes "Was this fated to happen? Was I meant to meet my end here?" These are interesting questions, but exploring Deep Themes hasn't really been Final Destination's bag since the first couple films. I miss that element, and I miss Tony Todd's creepy role as the mortician with an uncomfortable familiarity with Death's design. Somewhere in that subtext is the material for a rich horror film, but I think they're gonna keep the formula as-is. That means you just treat the Final Destination flicks as morbid skits, which can be fun if you're in the right mood.

That's my thoughts. Go check it out while you can still see it in 3D. Here's Flick Filosopher's take on the flick, which takes the whole thing entirely too seriously.