Hey, y'all. This year's horror movie marathon happens to be coinciding with some major life events, and I'm a little concerned I won't have time to watch as many this year. As a result, partner-in-crime Mr. Subtlety convinced me to go ahead and get an early start to knock off a few of the films I wanted to see. Below are a handful of horror flicks I watched the last week or so of September. I will be back soon with the official kick-off film for this year's marathon, The Tall Man.
I kinda like Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D, but it was no great shakes. I won't go so far as to call it a disappointment, but it definitely could have had a lot more fun with what it was trying to do. It might be that Aja was the wrong guy for the job; his previous films didn't exactly indicate a subversive sense of humor.
Now here comes a pointless, barely-released sequel that no one could have possibly asked for, but I felt mildly hopefully because they hired the right men for the job: the director and writers of those stupid Feast movies. If you haven't seen them, they are silly, lightweight exercises in over-the-top effects and bad taste that happen to be just fun enough to be worth watching. Seems like a perfect match for a Piranha sequel.
3DD isn't really an improvement; in fact, I'd rank it about equal. It's biggest mistake, in some ways, is to start with footage from the first film. Whatever 3D's faults, there was a real size and scope to the giant piranha bloodbath at the end of the film that this sequel, which looks like it was made for about 1/4th the budget, could never hope to match. When 3DD finally reaches it's big finale (which one character claims will make the events of the first film "look like an appetizer"), it's largely underwhelming because it basically consists of 30 people thrashing around in a swimming pool.
The film makes up for these shortcomings by having better individual scenes that go way more over-the-top than the original. We get Gary Busey biting the head off a piranha and spitting it into the camera, a piranha coming out of a vagina to bite off a dick, a cow farting explosive piranha eggs, Ving Rhames with piranha-killing shotgun legs, gratuitous vomit, full frontal female nudity, a piranha up the ass, hilarious child murder, and a bunch of self-referential silliness where David Hasselhoff plays himself and sulks about how low his career has sunk. It's not exactly a laff riot, but for this kind of crap, it'll do. Director John Gulager (son of Clu, who makes a cameo) has a nice eye for striking visuals and sight gags, and even if he never crafts a classic set piece, a few of the minor ones are worthy.
Necronomicon: Book of Dead
Produced and partly directed by Brian Yuzna (who made reliably fun Stuart Gordon-lite type movies until the mid 90's, when his films suddenly turned unwatchable), this is an anthology film based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Each of the 3 parts is directed by a different filmmaker: Yuzna, Christophe Gans, and some Japanese dude I've never heard of. Yuzna also directs the (pretty stupid) wraparound story, which involves Jeffrey Combs (in ridiculous makeup) as Lovecraft reading the stories and discovering real life spooky shit.
I've never seen a Lovecraft adaptation that really quite nails what's special about his works, and maybe that's because Lovecraft had great ideas but wasn't a very good writer. Stuart Gordon has probably fared the best with his several adaptations, taking some of Lovecraft's ideas and wedding them to gory, over the top, satirical stories. Necronomicon is somewhat along those lines, though maybe more self-serious than Gordon's films, and honestly does a better job than most adaptations at using Lovecraft's premises and trying to evoke their sense of incomprehensible horror. I mean, just a few weeks previously I watched a supposed Lovecraft adaptation called The Unnamable, which was about (I shit you not) a bunch of college students in an old house with a scary monster. They pay some lip service to a few Lovecraftian themes, but basically it could be any other cheap, shitty 80's horror movie. Necronomican at least has terrible ancient beasts and people suffering unfathomably torturous fates and whatnot.
It's not a great anthology film. It's a little cheap and awkward in places, Gans' segment is a big of a slog to a cool conclusion, and the wraparound story is pretty corny. But I still think it's more clever, fun and ambitious than it has any right to be, and definitely worth it for horror fans.
Kurosawa Kiyoshi has a style that I appreciate. He creates richly atmospheric, unsettling, kinda depressing movies, often by using long, slowly developing takes with minimal sound effects, dialogue or score. He's best known for doing horror movies (I'd say my favorite is Cure), but even when he does an ostensible drama like Tokyo Sonata, he strikes much the same tone. I wasn't sure if Charisma was going to be a horror movie going into it, and it didn't seem like it was for a while, until it slowly becomes one.
The story involves a mysterious tree named Charisma that seems to be poisoning the woods around it. The locals are infatuated with the tree, with some wanting to destroy it, and some wanting to protect it. And what starts as a slow, moody, surreal drama slowly escalates into something more terrifying. Kurosawa's use of violence in this film is striking; there's something shocking yet deadpan and matter of fact about the townspeople's eventual murders that maximizes the impact. The murder is almost... mundane, no more exciting than anything else that happens in the film, which makes it more disturbing.
Though I wouldn't quite rank it with Kurosawa's best, if you like his style, you'll like Charisma. It uses its slow pace to lull you and insinuate itself onto you, before slowly bringing the hammer down.
Wake Wood has something of a classic horror story set up, with a nice visceral twist to it. It concerns the grieving parents of a dead girl who discover that there may be a way to bring their daughter back... but only for 3 days, and at a dire price. The film nicely exploits the emotional element of the story while not shying away from from disturbing the audience on a graphic level. The ordeal of resurrecting their daughter leads to some seriously messed up shit, and suffice it to say that the film is chock-a-block with bizarre birth imagery. Although I would have preferred a more elegant visual style, and the story doesn't live up to it's full potential (I think they could have come up with something more clever then having the kid kill a bunch of people), it succeeds at adding a lot of unnerving details and twists to what might have been an unsurprising story.
Without spoiling too much, Absentia has a story with an almost Lovecraftian hook, yet what's fascinating about the film is the way it mostly eschews the larger implications in order to present a smaller, more intimate drama. Instead of the fear of some ancient a terrible beast beyond comprehension, it's about the fear of a loved one vanishing with no explanation, and how we deal with trauma when we don't have closure. There is a monster in this film, and there is an overarching horror-movie plot, but much of the time the film is focused in on the characters and how they are emotionally handling an increasingly bizarre and tragic situation. Considering its low budget, the quality of the filmmaking and the performances is quite impressive (although a little more money for special effects would have helped). Absentia is way too slow for someone looking for gore and special effects, but for those of us willing to slow down to its speed, it's surprisingly chilling examination of some difficult emotions, and the horror that it slowly builds is genuinely disturbing.
Resident Evil: Retribution (in IMAX 3D)
Once upon I hated the Resident Evil movies, but I've come around on them. Now, I've grown to love how bad they are. Beginning with an action scene shown backwards and in slow motion, and ending with humanity's last survivors holed up at the White House to fight off a monster invasion, RE:R is a treasure trove of nonstop silliness. No one can cram a movie full of so much nonsense like Paul W.S. Anderson; it's all corny dialogue, inconsequential plot developments, interchangable characters and action scenes highly stylized to the point of self-parody, all encased in a ludicrous story involving zombie apocalypses, clones, elaborate computer simulations, evil robots and under-water secret evil villain lairs.
The clincher is just how hard Anderson tries; he is honestly trying to make a fun movie, filled with action and plot twists and whatnot. Technically speaking, I think the man has talent: the action is cleanly filmed and edited, shots are nicely framed, color is used well. But whatever talent he has, it's all wasted on ridiculous stylistic gimmicks and a screenplay that would seem juvenile to a 13-year-old boy. Word is that the next one (part 6) is set to be the last, and you can bet I'll be there with bells on.
Rating: On the so-bad-its-good scale, I'd say a B+. On a more objective scale, I'd say a D.