Friday, January 16, 2009

Dan's 2008 Year in Review Horror Movie Postmortem Extravaganza Part II

Aliens (because they are foreign films, not because they are about aliens)

Last House in the Woods - Italy is the home of the giallo, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and gratuitous Edwige Fenech nudity. I like their horror films, which at their best often display an effective mix of high style and unapologetic sleaze. You get your art and your trash all rolled up in one. But this low budget Italian riff on Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn't really succeed at either. Occasionally it's violent enough to be unpleasant, but mostly it's a bore. And it makes a mistake that I've noticed more and more in horror movies these days: it tries to be both disturbing and over-the-top fun at once, and they cancel each other out. You can't be both Reanimator and Hostel, you have to pick one and stick with it. Also, props to the American distributors for the original title.

Frontier(s) - Unlike Last House in the Woods, this is a French riff on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As opposed to an Italian one. And you know what, they should really leave this genre to the Americans. Sorry Europe, I just don't think you understand how to make a good cannibal redneck movie. It's because of your lack of barbecue, which is the appropriate way to eat a human. It's just not scary if you make a person into tartar and wash it down with a glass of cabernet.

Inside - This is it, this is my vote for worst horror film of the year. It had potential to be great. It's a home invasion thriller with a twist: the heroine is pregnant and the killer wants to cut out her baby. That's some fucked up crazy shit right there, but Inside blows it by eschewing suspense and tension for a comically high body count and a lot of overdone make up effects that are too over the top to be disturbing and too seriously presented to be fun. I'm becoming convinced that Europeans don't know how to film violence any more. I mean, say what you will about the Saw and Hostel movies, but they at least know how to properly present gore, whether it be for serious or entertaining purposes. I'm guessing these European directors grew up watching the same hyper-violent 80's horror shit that I did, but maybe something got lost in translation and all they understood was that violence should be graphic. They never figured out that it should be a means to an end... to help set the tone of the film, and to provide dramatic payoffs. Anyway, read my lengthy takedown of Inside here.

Rogue - I'm convinced Australian director Greg McLean is going to do something great at some point. His movies look nice, know how to build tension and have much stronger performances and character work than your average horror movie. But so far, he's given us two movies with a lot to like and also some serious flaws holding them back from being as good as they should be. Oh well, maybe next time. The first 2/3rds of Rogue is one of the best monster movies in a long while, but it loses it's way with a final act that drags on, and when they finally show all of the giant crocodile, it's an unconvincing special effect that kills the mood. McLean is going for the tried and true approach of leaving the monster offscreen to build tension and then revealing it with a classic payoff, but you wish he would have just skipped the payoff and left the croc as a mostly unseen presence. If I'm being a little hard on the movie, it's because it's a good horror movie that had potential to be an excellent one.

Mother of Tears - Maybe this is a bad one, I don't know, but I was so excited to finally see a Dario Argento film in theaters that I didn't notice. I'll admit that it's not his best. But it has baby murder, a woman being strangled with her own intestines, slutty witches, and Asia Argento's tits, so I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it. And like Phenomena and Inferno and some of his others, I suspect it may improve with multiple viewings, at least on the level where you appreciate just how fucking weird the thing is. Still, I'm disappointed that Argento didn't use the same colorful, hyper-stylized look he went for in the other Three Mothers movies, and instead made it look like his other less visually intense recent movies. I was expecting a throwback to his glory days but what I got was a reminder that his best films are probably behind him.

The Orphanage - I did a longer write-up on this one here about my disappointment with the film. Unlike Inside, however, it was because I admired a lot of what the movie attempted, but didn't feel it was properly executed. If I recall, The Orphanage received very strong reviews on it's release in the US, and I can understand why, it's looks nice and seems competent and lacks a lot of the sleazy elements that critics normally object to. But I would venture to guess that, now that time has passed, most of them have forgotten this one, and that few horror fans are finding this one worth revisiting. Any tension they would have felt the first time is ruined by a bad, sorta twist ending that makes everything before it seem completely unscary. So what you're left with is a long, slow horror movie with no tension, some atmosphere and dreary tone that isn't powerful enough to get under your skin, but just effective enough to make the movie a bummer.

Cruel Summer

Untraceable - I think we can officially say that 2008 was the year that torture porn went mainstream. How else do you explain how a blatant Saw ripoff like this movie was made starring fucking Diane Lane and Colin Hanks. Those aren't the names you'd associate with a transgressive horror film, those are the heroine and gay best friend in a romantic comedy. Hell, just sign on Matthew McConaughey to the lead role and you're ready to start shooting Must Love Failing to Launch a Guy in 10 Days. The once derided torture porn genre has been domesticated, it's now no more threatening to our values than Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Oh and in case you couldn't guess it, this movie sucked.

Trailer Park of Terror - I guessed that this was a horror comedy going in to it, but if it was supposed to be funny then the filmmakers and I do not share a sense of humor. Even though this has evil undead trailer park rednecks as its villains, it's surprisingly sick and and cruel in places. One character gets skinned and then boiled alive in grease. In another scene two teenagers are forced at knife point to have sex on camera for the villains' pleasure. So we're not really talking about an Evil Dead 2 style romp here. For what it is, it has some effective moments, but... I still don't understand how this silly premise lead to this dark movie.

Saw V - I've enjoyed this series more than any reasonable person should, I think mainly because I'm excited to have an honest to goodness Friday the 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street style franchise where they shit out a new movie every year. Too bad this was, after two highly ridiculous and entertaining entries, the worst one since part II. Too short, with not enough crazy over-plottedness. Still some satisfying violence and other insanity, but I'm hoping they kick it up a notch with part VI later this year.

Seed - What happened to my beloved Uwe Boll? The man responsible for some of the most unintentionally hilarious films of all time has gotten boring in recent years. Seed, his attempt to cash in on the torture porn genre, sucks mainly because Boll seems to think that he has a real serious, disturbing, provocative horror film on his hands, when it's really just an especially cruel Jason movie. I haven't seen Postal or In the Name of the King yet, I'm hoping those reach the levels of transcendent camp that he achieved with House of the Dead and Blackwoods. However if he keeps trying to make serious films, I'm giving up on him.

Pathology - The guys who did Crank wrote this, a fairly entertaining and amusingly sick movie about a bunch of young hotshot doctors who get off on murdering random people in ways they won't get caught for. What follows is a respectable amount of nasty gore, transgressive sex and dark humor. Not great, but good sick fun.

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