Reviews plus Commentary

I stayed away from writing full reviews for a good reason. I checked the forecast for movies following the great Inglourious Basterds, and it was a slew of crappy romantic comedies, crappy action flicks, and crappy horror flicks. If you saw the trailers, you knew they were destined to suck. September’s been kind of a dumping ground that’s good for bad films. The only one I had hopes for was Gamer, and as you’ll read in a few, that severely underwhelmed.

Halloween II – 1.5 stars – Rob Zombie (hopefully) completes his revisionist view of the saga of Michael Meyers. Not an improvement on the original franchise, or the first of Zombie’s remaking. It’s style over substance, and lacks style.

The Final Destination in 3D – 0 Stars – I have to give major props to the filmmakers on this one. They found a way to go down hill from rock bottom. The first one was mediocre at best. And it got worse from there. And kept getting worse.

Gamer – 0 stars – Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall are great actors, but even they can’t rise above this drek. The nicest thing I can say about this film is that it’s stupid. It’s loud. No character or plot development.

All About Steve – 1 star – It has it’s charming quirks, but overall it was annoying. The message is forced on you. You’re beat over the head with it. Where’s that spark that gave Bradley Cooper and Sandra Bullock hits earlier this summer with The Hangover and The Proposal (respectively).

Whiteout – .5 stars – This movie is horrible. The thrills are boring, the acting is terrible. It gains half a star based on the merit of Tom Skerritt.

Sorority Row – 0 stars – It’s a completely unoriginal slasher flick devoid of any discernible social relevancy, other than killing off CW’s primetime lineup. It’s a slasher flick, but it doesn’t have a glimmer of the poignancy that it’s predecessor’s had. It doesn’t even try to. It’s all about the hot chicks. And about half way through, I kinda stopped caring about the hot chicks.

And that leads me to the commentary portion of the blog. And I will warn you, the language will get a little rough.

What the hell happened to American horror? Right up through the mid-late 90’s, American horror was great, and if not great, still good. That’s an overall statement. There are of course shitty horror flicks throughout the ages. But there have been great ones. And they run the gamut of sub-genres. But up there, you saw, that of the 4 horror films in the past 3 weeks, the highest rated one was a sequel to a remake (a special level of unoriginality). What we’re getting are cheap scares, remakes, sequels or bullshit “Based on a true story” ghost stories. Seriously. If you see “Based on a true story” attached to a horror flick, it’s bullshit.

I think it’s that the filmmakers aren’t trying anymore. They’re opting for cheap scares (person jumps around a corner/loud noise across the room/power going out, what have you). They rarely take the time to build the suspense. I find myself bored and annoyed more than I’m truly frightened. And I can’t go back and watch the classics that did scare me, because I know them now. They’re familiar to me.

Of the best examples of horror from the past 10 years, The Sixth Sense is the only one that was really, really good. Sure, M. Night Shayamalan has turned into a joke at this point, but in 1999, that was a very effective horror film. And it does still hold up. 2009’s The Collector Was good. It wasn’t great. But it was good. Effective is a good word to use for it.

While I usually hold disdain for the uninspired, cliche ridden borefests that are the remakes, this year’s remake of The Last House on The Left actually stayed true to the spirit of the original, and had big brass balls to the important, if highly disturbing, rape scene. It’s what set the tone for the film, and without it, couldn’t be the catalyst for the ensuing carnage. It’s what got the original banned in several countries for years (decades even), and they showed enormous respect for the source material by keeping it in. They kept with the spirit, so I do give it at least some credit for that.

P.S. on that… The Descent was British, as was 28 Days Later…, and we’re talking American horror.

The Saw franchise recalls the the 70’s/80’s hey day of franchising the horror, and bundling it with a pseudo-morality tale of “Value your life.” But like the great franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street), the quality decreases exponentially with each subsequent entry. We’re on the 6th this coming Halloween, by the way. They still deliver, don’t get me wrong. It’s just going stale. Still a guilty pleasure though.

But the downfall of American horror is traceable to one event. One day. One movie. One 1 hour and 51 minute piece. It hit the world 13 years ago, and so utterly destroyed the horror genre, that it can only be described as perfection. It’s one of my all time favourite films. Created by a horror master. I’m talking, of course, of the last frighteningly exquisite film- Scream.

Wes Craven is a master. Up there with his forefathers in greatness- Hitchcock, Murnau and Romero. He and John Carpenter carried the horror torch through the 70’s and 80’s, and defined the genre for subsequent generations.

And I think… I think Craven had a Victor Frankenstein moment in the mid-90’s. He saw what damage his creature had wrought. Or would bring. He saw the sensibilities of the general mainstream audiences shift. He knew that horror as it was wouldn’t last. That it would slowly degrade into terribleness. And rather than become a casualty, he became the perpetrator

Craven felt the best thing to do was go out in a blaze of glory. Enter Scream. It is at all times knowingly ironic, the most meta of meta. I think the term meta only had the vaguest of definitions until Scream arrived. The movie came out and Webster said “That’s it. That is fucking meta. Finally. Entry complete. Next word.”

Scream was, first and foremost, a satire. And it’s quite possibly the perfect parody. All the conventions of horror, specifically of the slasher sub-genre, where what Craven had created. He knew the ins and outs. It was his creation to destroy. But rather than make a silly, goofy, unwatchable Scary Movie, hinthintwinkwink, he played it straight. Craven went all out.

Get a few sorta popular TV stars, Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, then of “Party of Five” and “Friends,” respectively. Add in a few more young, attractive stars with Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich. Round it out with David Arquette and Jamie Kennedy for comic relief, and he was on his way.

Again, the only way to do this, was to do it proper. Drew Barrymore’s been a star all her life. She was perhaps the biggest star in the film. And was heavily featured in the promotional materials. Craven did the unthinkable. Drew gets gutted 10 minutes in. What follows is an intense hour and a half of the leads discussing horror films, how the plot is playing out like a horror film, what would happen next if it was a horror film, what they would do if it was a horror film. The whole thing is ridiculously self-referential. But not only was it highlighting the cliches, but it was not only playing them out, but tweaking them ever so slightly.

It was still able to deliver on the scares, on the shocks. And you could really see the foresight Craven had for future horror. He went violent and gory, which led to the glut of “torture porn” in the 2000’s.

The biggest plus was that while the movie was in on it’s own joke, it never gave a wink and a nod. You never got that “See, we know it’s a joke, too. Get it?” The movie played it straight. Big plus.

And that’s what it did. The movie lived up to the cliches, but deconstructed them at the same time. You couldn’t take a horror film seriously after Scream. It’s like when a kid takes apart a vacuum cleaner to see what makes it work, and then puts it back together. Sure it works… just not quite the same as before.

And horror hasn’t been the same since. There hasn’t been a great one since Scream. And I’m waiting for the next great one to come along.

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