Monday, April 30, 2012


So I've been doing my horror movie homework lately: the first two Friday the 13th movies and the first Nightmare on Elm Street. I'd've hit up the Halloween series, too, but the first movie is gone from Netflix insty and H2O sequel is...quite, quite dreadful. I watched it out of desperation on cable once when I was sick. Even my massive childhood crush on Jamie Lee Curtis couldn't make it good; it only made it watchable.

(Admittedly, a cable edit is not ideal viewing at any time for anything except, perhaps, Stonehenge Apocalypse and then only because the ad breaks give you a chance to recover from your bouts of helpless hysteria.)

Lets do Friday first. I...wasn't unduly impressed with this. Slasher flicks are not my favorite movie meat at any time of day and, while I'm interested in the Friday series for a number of reasons, the actual content of the story isn't high on the list! I find the durability of the franchise fascinating (12 films, the last in 2009), the role it has in the development of modern horror, the impact it has on other films, on pop culture in general (who doesn't have some faint "back of the brain" recognition of "Crystal Lake" or "Jason"?), and so on and so forth.

But the slasher film per se doesn't do much for me: blood for the sake of The first Friday had enough other things to keep me interested: the characters were actually...a little character'y; it's always fun to watch the back-story unwind (even when you already know it); and, honestly, the setting is quite gorgeous. This, really, was one of the things working against the scare value of the movie for me; I grew up somewhere that looks very much like "Crystal Lake" and, while I've seen plenty of horror movies with a woods'y setting that work just dandy to set my adrenaline going, this wasn't one of them: there wasn't a nasty vibe coming out of those trees, at least to my mind.

What I found particularly interesting sitting and watching the first two Friday movies in immediate succession was, among other things (sex = punishment!), was that the surprise, the shock, the horror (if you will) is supposed to come from the kill itself. There isn't much emphasis put on the lurking killer, the mutilation of the bodies, the disposal or discovery of corpses, and all the trappings that I (and I suspect other viewers) have become accustomed to watching more recent films. The killer kills -- and that's it. If you're lucky (or unlucky) you get a shot of a corpse with a hatchet in her head or his throat slit (physiologically inaccurate, if anyone cares) and that's about it. If that doesn't scare you -- too fucking bad!

It's an interesting take: it assumes that your effect can be totally gotten across to your audience by a brief -- seconds only -- shot of a hatchet in someone's skull. Okay, yeah, Tom Savini did a great job with the make-up, but...perhaps my palate is just jaded but -- not really that scary.

In time and place, however -- I remember once having a conversation with my sewing teacher back when I was in 4-H as a child about, for some reason, Jaws and how she remembered the summer it had come out and how terrified people were. I'm not sure if I remember her saying she'd been to see it or not, but I've always remembered her saying how scared people were and how silly it seemed now, etc., etc. Well, I've seen Jaws on the big scene and it was fucking terrifying and that was in 2009, 30 years after first release. I can't imagine seeing Friday the 13th on the big screen and it having the same effect.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Fun Times

Want to be suspicious of music forever? Want to live in perpetual terror of a fey imp leaping from your closet? Always thought your high school band was a little too strange? Watch on, my friends, watch on!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The GUT of Neil Marshall

I bought a cheap copy of Neil Marshall's The Descent at Newbury Comics the other day and, from the reaction of the dude running the register, you'd've thought I just bought gold covered in chocolate. Or chocolate covered in gold: "Oh, God, this is the best movie. Have you seen it? You haven't? Oh, you're going to love it! Yeah, there's the sequel but -- I don't think it's as good. Yeah, definitely see this first..." And so on.

Now I actually bought this movie because I was sick of only the sequel showing up on Netflix. I don't know about you but I try really hard not to watch sequels first. I've done it occasionally out of horror movie desperation, but I've always regretted it.

But lets get to the point: the Grand Unified Theory (or GUT) of Neil Marshall (based on two movies and therefore in no way generalizable and produced only for entertainment):

A. The man has no idea what real blood looks like.

B. He has a very generous estimation of the abuse the human body can take and survive.

C. He really doesn't know what shock looks like -- except when he does, and then it's startlingly good.

D. He's very good at the sudden reveal scare -- except when he's not, and then it sucks ass.

The Descent was a disappointment. I bought it expecting an above-average monster movie with a nifty cast; what I actually got a was a well-below-average monster movie with an "eh" cast. But nice scenery.

Yes, the all-female cast was a unique aspect to the film but I can't say that in and of itself makes the movie more watchable or any better although I had been led to believe that it kinda did. It's interesting as a movie fact; that's about all you can say for it. Oh, and the screaming is in a generally higher register than it might otherwise be.

Potential spoilers follow.

Your basic plot: heroine is suffering from trauma and grief due to having survived an auto accident which killed her husband and young child. Friends band together to create a yearly wilderness outing to bring their grieving friend back to some semblance of a normal life. Wilderness outing goes horribly wrong. Group is lost. Monsters descend. The band of friends blows itself apart -- as such groups are wont to do, apparently -- and much death ensues.

So far, so basic.

My problem is that there isn't anything here by way of unique characterization or interesting group dynamic or even real plot tension to keep the thing going forward. Okay, so it's a group of all women instead of all guys or a mixed group. So? And? Now what? There basic character types that tend to be women in horror movies are still all here: there's the slut, the studious girl, the good girl, the sisters, the sporty girl... there's nothing different going on here. They're just all a little older than they might otherwise be. Yes, okay, I was glad that the script never got to the point of desperation where the whole "You slept with my husband and therefore distracted him and therefore he died in a horrible, horrible, ironic car accident!" had to be said aloud but perhaps saying it aloud would have given the actresses a little something to sink their teeth into rather than just wandering around the edges of it.

And the monsters? Oh, dear God, the monsters. They're pathetic. Really. Seriously unscary. And they don't make sense which is even worse. A little basic research on the structures and habits of cave-dwelling creatures might have saved the screenwriters from looking like idiots. Hell, Gollum makes more sense than these sods.

And, Mr. Marshall, do you really think I'm going to lose my shit over a cave full of bones and a gooey pond? Well, it ain't gonna work and I'm vaguely insulted by the suggestion!

And one of the the only interesting moments -- "do I kill my friend to save her from being eaten alive?" -- took place then, too, and I was so pissed off by then that I couldn't even respect it as a moment.

So, if you have nothing better to do with the next two hours of your time...well, personally, I'd say watch A Very Supernatural Christmas twice before I'd suggest you watch The Descent.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Magic Words

I am going to give you the two magic words that will make the last episode of the second season of Sherlock watchable.

Are you ready? You're gonna want these -- get a pencil and some scrap paper or something. Got it? Okay, good.

Andrew. Scott.

Or, if you prefer:

James. Moriarty.

Like any good fairy tale -- remember those words, folks -- the villain makes the piece. Without Vader, Star Wars falls apart (ceases to be, actually, I think) and the Doctor is better with his Master -- yeah, well, this Sherlock has a fuck-tastic Moriarty.

Yeah, okay, I'll grant that Cumberbatch and Freeman and Gatiss turn in reasonable performances -- Freeman's is actually inspired at more than one point -- but Scott is the beating black heart of this thing. He's freaky, he's scary, he's violent, he's crazed, he's unreliable, and he is fucking convincing.

This isn't a villain you want to have tea with (Al Swearengen, anyone?); this is a villain you'd hide behind the couch from (think John Simm's Master at his nutsiest.)

So you've got that, right? Glue your eyes to Andrew Scott and don't fucking let go or you will miss the best, juiciest bits of this show.

Apart from that, Reichenbach Fall is a hot mess -- we're back to Scandal territory here and it's painful. The story kinda makes sense -- at least the bits with Moriarty have the charm of complete and utter insanity -- and you know what's gonna happen in the end, so, really, it's just a matter of making sure we get from A to B in an hour and a half.

I'm not going to bother going through the motions of a plot summary here and if you really think you can be spoilered on a story that was first published in 189-blahdeblah,, I really have no help for you. But there are some nice character moments -- Watson at Sherlock's 'grave' is palpably painful and Molly, once again, gets some truly awesome screen time.

Does the whole thng work? Well, do you want to be convinced by it? Then you will be. I think Gatiss and Moffatt have signed themselves up for more trouble than they really need for the third season -- already contracted for, or so I hear -- and I'm really not looking forward to seeing how they get themselves out of it because all the options I can think of at least are messy and unfortunate.

Still, through all this, there's my happy place: He didn't screw up season 6. He didn't screw up season 6. He didn't screw up season 6. :)