Sunday, December 27, 2009

Deadgirl

We as a people are extremely list oriented (grocery lists, shopping lists). We are consistently listing and ranking things (box office scores, sports teams). The genre fan in particular is enamored with the art of assigning classification (best horror pic of the decade, best film of the year). Thus, as the year draws to a close, I have begun to reflect on what the realm of cinema has had to offer in 2009. In an effort to organize a satisfactory “best horror of 2009" list I have endeavored to expose myself to as much genre fare as possible. Among the titles that had, until recently, eluded me was Deadgirl, a sordid little video nasty that has been included on a number of “best of” lists.

The movie, which witnesses a pair of high school boys defacing an abandoned hospital before discovering in its basement the naked body of a zombified woman, fails to satisfy the moral disquisition hinted at via its plot. As a high school teacher, I am witness to the immoral actions of teenagers on a daily basis. Most recently, members of the school’s soccer team sketched an 80 yard replica of the male organ of copulation in the snow outside the building. Still, it takes a special kind of someone to defile an open wound in the belly of a bound and battered woman while friends jest and jeer from the sidelines. It is extremely difficult to maintain lively interest in a film with such abhorrent characters. Even during a moment when the movie attempts to lend its protagonist an air of humanity by having him free the title character from her shackles, it first has him borrow said tool from a drug dealer.

I was reminded at points throughout Deadgirl of Rob Reiner’s 1986 coming-of-age tale Stand By Me: also a story about adolescents stumbling upon a dead body (and in support of my earlier claims regarding the idiosyncracies of genre fans, my fourth all-time favorite film). That movie captured the horrors of boyhood (a period when one is given to rebellion yet fearful of the consequences) while simultaneously illustrating the magic of childhood. Deadgirl could have done the same thing, however, ultimately is too concerned with making its audience feel uneasy. A framing of adolescent misfortune (alienation, peer pressure) is displaced by one-dimensional characters whose vocabulary is limited to four-letter words, a soundtrack littered with trite emo tunes and one too many hand-held images of hardened nipples.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2000s Horror (slightly revamped list)

The staff at HorrorHound recently voted on what they felt were the best horror pictures released during the 2000s. The results were printed in the magazine’s most recent issue. While the goal of the article was to accentuate quality works, the overall sentiment of the piece seemed to be one of disapproval. I found this ironic as condensing the pool of horror films released during the Noughties (2000s) proved for me to be an extremely difficult task – not because of the lack of superior movies but rather due to the large number of first-rate works.

The period is most known for its proliferation of horror remakes as well as a return to the graphic violence that permeated the post-Vietnam years (headed by a number of financially successful European films), a trend that has led to the inexplicable birth of a new genre dubbed “horror porn.” See below for what was the best of the best of the past 10 years (in my humble opinion).

1. Martyrs
2. Wolf Creek
3. Ils
4. The Descent
5. House of the Devil
6. Inside
7. Haute Tension
8. Fraily
9. Let the Right One In
10. Ginger Snaps

HM: Session 9

Friday, December 4, 2009

1990s Horror

The 1990s were marred by a recession of ideas headed by a series of failed sequels and dying franchises. The proliferation of sanguinary pics that flooded the shelves of video stores in the 80s crossed with a young audience spoiled by advancements in computer-generated effects resulted in horror losing its place as a juggernaut at the box office. In an effort to reconnect with audiences, filmmakers resorted to a self-reflexive style of storytelling (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), often to the point of parody (Dead Alive). Thus, Neve Campbell in Scream says of horror films, “they're all the same, some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door,” just before she herself flees up the steps. More straight-ahead attempts at horror throughout the decade dwelled more within the realm of thriller than terror. Still, while the voice of horror seemed to want to utter, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” (my favorite 90s catch phrase), a few titles did manage to fear and delight. Here’s a list of what I feel was the best horror had to offer in the 1990s.

1. The Blair Witch Project
2. The Silence of the Lambs
3. Scream
4. Kalifornia
5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
6. Dead Alive
7. The Sixth Sense
8. Seven
9. In the Mouth of Madness
10. Nightbreed

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1980s Horror

Despite the assertion of Oscar Wilde, art does imitate life. So what concerns beset the era of Garbage Pail Kids, legwarmers and glam rock? What communal fears plagued the decade of Hungry Hungry Hippos, Pop Rocks and the Brat Pack?

Embraced by a generation that feared nuclear fallout, gang warfare and the AIDS epidemic, horror pictures of the 1980s exposed the ugly underpinnings of American society. Hot on the heels of the shootings at Kent State; Vietnam; the second Cold War; the boycotting of the Summer Games in Moscow, horror positioned itself as a force to be reckoned with at the box office.

The Terminator witnessed a world ravaged by nuclear war and cashed almost $80 million in ticket sales. John Carpenter’s The Thing saw a US Antarctic research team resort to blood testing to determine who among them was safe and who was “infected.” David Cronenberg’s The Fly featured a scientist plagued by a degenerative disease that attacked his physical shell. Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage witnessed a naïve teen resorting to murder in exchange for a hallucinogenic alien fluid.

The 80s also saw the (to coin a freshly popular phrase) reimagining of classic monsters, the transition from slasher to rubber-reality, the advent of the mom-and-pop video store and accompanying gore fare, the return of the anthology and the sequel craze.

Among all this is a collection of truly imaginative, really frightening and wholly entertaining movies. Here are a few that I feel stand out among the crowd:

1. The Evil Dead – Vicious, visceral, grueling and inventive. Quite possibly my favorite film of all time.
2. Fright Night – Tom Holland exploits the clichés of the genre in triumphant fashion. This film ranks slightly above Near Dark for best vamp pic of the decade, though the margin is slim.
3. Hellraiser – Clive Barker’s imagination is unparalleled. The best rubber-reality has to offer.
4. An American Werewolf in London – A nearly perfect blending of comedy and horror. For the longest time I had an internal debate as to which was a better film between this and The Howling before settling on AWIL.
5. The Fog – A classic ghost story that features a commendable simplicity, the Fog is the most underrated of Carpenter’s 80s pics, boasting his most chilling score and Cundey’s most beautiful photography.
6. Friday the 13th – If Halloween introduced the conventions of the slaher sub-genre, Friday the 13th set them in stone. It is the film that all others in its wake inspire to be. Its structure has become so familiar as to become almost silly.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street – Wes Craven’s first reinventing of the genre. He tossed aside the faceless, voiceless stalker on a mission in favor of a maniac with burned flesh and a sarcastic wit.
8. Re-Animator – Of all the 80s zombie pics (Return of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead) this one made me laugh the loudest and cringe the hardest.
9. The Thing – Perhaps Carpenter’s strongest directorial effort the film boasts terrific effects and a relevant theme.
10. Poltergeist – Most will be surprised to see this ghost title placed above The Shining on my list but its satirical storyline exploits every childhood phobia imaginable resulting in a truly scary experience and is at the present, my 10th favorite horror film of the 1980s.