Some people might say Halloween was 19 days ago, but I say we only have 346 more days to get ready for next year. What with class and work and a wedding, I barely had time to get my horror fix for the golden month, but in the end I surprised myself with the range of movies I picked, even if it is a small crop. I still made time for some classics: Pete and Pete’s ‘Halloweenie’ episode, Trick ‘r Treat (which is getting some much deserved attention from the online community all of a sudden), Hocus Pocus (damn straight), The Descent, and a bunch of public domain 60’s-70’s horror classics to put on in the background. Her are some of my latest viewings with their identifying sub-genre, if you will.
The New French Extremity: Inside – One might argue that after Martyrs no New French Extremity film could burrow itself any further under your skin (or worse). That isn’t to say there aren’t other reasons to seek out these dauntingly categorized slasher flicks than for the pure shock value. After all, these are the movies that bother to give the heart a beat before it’s torn out of its body. Or in the case of Inside, a baby. This short addition to the movement bears all the familiar strokes: pungent atmosphere, psychological torment, extreme violence, bitter aftertaste. Next to the others of its ilk, this is more of an endurance test. For most of its run time there’s no death that isn’t telegraphed, and they get grislier the higher the body count goes. That said, its all-pervading gloominess is more absorbing than most horror efforts. Bottled up with expectant mother Sarah, a recent widow, we’re floating in the yellow, embryonic murk of her home as it’s invaded by a psychotic woman. Half the terror is wondering just what this stranger’s motivation is, until one chilling scene poses a possibility. Sarah is locked in the bathroom while scissors plunge a hole in the door. Sarah asks the woman why she is doing this, and we close in on the woman’s bulging eyeball as it locks in on Sarah’s stomach. “I want one,” she says. In the end this doesn’t completely explain her maniacal desires. Her assault comes closer to a haunting at times, her erotic obsession with the pregnant Sarah signifying a deeper torment. Topped off by the feverish hallucinations stirred up by Sarah’s already unsound mind, Inside floods the womb-like setting of its story with striking, harrowing complexity. Claustrophobic doesn’t begin to cover it. What will come spilling out by the end is anyone’s guess.
The Found Footage: [Rec] 2– This sequel to the exceptional [Rec] does something with the dark that no film has ever done before. Once it seems that the only surprise left is for yet another zombie to jump out of yet another doorway, the lights go off, and so does our confidence that we can ever bumble our way to the bathroom for a 3am leak again. For once here is a sequel that is a natural progression from its predecessor, strengthening the foundation that was first set up. Still, it requires some familiar tricks to work. It follows its own twisted logic as preached by the bug-eyed Dr. Owen, whose reckless determination to suppress the outbreak keeps the momentum going. The members of the SWAT team that accompany him are just the right degree of dumb to incite regular hysterics. And for better or worse some teenage numbskulls are shoehorned in to pad out the runtime, their presence at least culminating in one of the all-time “don’t open that door!” moments witnessed in quite a long time. The script is nondependent on jump scares, patient enough to let scenes inch unnervingly forward when they are most expected. Just as well employed are the POV cameras, the deft handling of which ensures that the story is never cheapened by exploitative cuts and swipes. Ironically however, without the night vision available on the characters’ headsets, the revelation of the story’s biggest twist would have forced it all to come to a screeching halt. For all its clichés, this sequel elevates the material, taking the superficial scariness of the first film’s simple premise of being trapped in a building with zombies into a downright disturbing, spooky direction.
The Overlooked Indie: The Aggression Scale – Like Swiss cheese, there are some things that are better defined by their holes than their actual form. In a plot that promises to be Rob Zombie’s Home Alone, a boy and girl Brady-Bunched together by marriage fend off a team of assassins who don’t know the boy’s mental illness has rendered him a mindless killing machine. After some stylishly hyperactive opening credit scenes with the assassins, the story whisks its way over to a mop-topped tween whose only “mental illness” is manifested by his staring into the middle distance and refusing to talk to his dad. Kind of like… any… teenager. After some syrupy family drama, the crims burst on the scene and all hell kind of breaks loose. The problem is that what made it to the screen is only an outline of an idea, seriously lacking in any real personality. In fact, some of the traps set by the bastard McAllister child come close to outright plagiarism of Home Alone. Character development is limited to things like the girl’s scarred wrists, the boy’s silence, and bile like “I was a waitress!” and “What would you do for your son?!” The timeline and scene geography are so incoherent that the girl can scream on any level of the decibel scale from vacuum cleaner to front-row-of-a-rock-concert and never alert the bad guys in pursuit, but at least the said bad guys possess the clairvoyance to track the kids to a random car dealership in the middle of nowhere. At one point, the chief bad guy and his crony sift through the boy’s medical records conveniently left on the kitchen table. “Just how dangerous is this kid?” the crony asks. Perhaps we should consult the DSM V, I wanted to offer. This list of grievances only gets longer. The makers seem to think they have created a ready-made cult classic. Their film wears its coolness on its sleeve with gung-ho steeliness, producing godawful one-liners and untimely smirks from characters who are supposed to be A. mentally unhinged or B. reeling from the shock of seeing their parents’ brains splattered in front of them. The production is downright amateur, glossed over by a heavy post-production process that adds Youtube-grade blood spurts, a hard rawk soundtrack best suited to History Channel daytime reruns, and, most ludicrously of all, the stock “whoosh” sound effect anytime someone makes a sudden movement. Not since James Wan’s sad excuse for a thriller and waste of Kevin Bacon Death Sentence has the clash between badass and traumatized been handled so obtusely. Thankfully no Bacon was wasted here.
The Remake: Fright Night (2011) – Having never seen the original Fright Night, I thought I might be at an advantage to review this. But it would seem this remake is lucky for it, because I have enough bad things to say without falling back on the usual complaints about franchise reboots. It’s easy, first of all, to claim death by CGI with this new version, but moreover it’s a complete waste of charisma that deals the death blow here. With Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Anton Yelchin, and Toni Collette onboard, this movie wastes actors like an alcoholic wastes fine wine. Farrell and Tennant play to type but have little room to toy around, filling out their characters as much as the stuffy script allows. Anton Yelchin is horribly, horribly miscast as dork-turned-cool kid Charlie Brewster; not only is his character introduced as a jackass, Yelchin just can’t play “normal,” and his attempts are too forced when viewed beside his winning quirky roles. Even worse, and insulting to the rest of the cast, is the length of time wasted on walking crime against humanity Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Everything about this movie points to a test marketed product: A-list cast, too-sleek visuals, tepid script, and lastly, a pointless choice of setting. What parallels a remake of a cheesy 80’s cult classic horror movie hoped it could make to American Beauty with its cookie cutter desert-set suburbs are beyond me, but it sure does a good job of drying up whatever vestige of character the film had to begin with. The plotting is rushed, somehow resisting a full first act when Mintz-Plasse’s Ed barges in, warning Charlie about neighborhood vampire Jerry Dandridge when he’s barely even met the guy. The script is always a hop, skip, and a jump ahead, totally stoked for the half baked vampire action to begin. Within three minutes it’s already foreshadowed that at some point Jerry will be staked with a real estate signpost. The comedy is light, the horror even lighter. It leaves us wishing we’d just double billed Charlie Bartlett with 28 Weeks Later or In Bruges with The Sixth Sense to see what the cast can do with good material. You can just Youtube McLovin in your spare time.