Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Horror Movie Countdown Part 2: Now With Much Less Horror

I feel as though I've seen a lot of movies lately, but surprisingly few of them have been straight up "horror" flicks. So, this week's entry isn't exactly of a piece with what has come before. Or maybe it is. Let's just pretend that these are all horror movies, and my royalty checks will keep rolling in.

I do not get royalty checks.


I'm at least a couple of weeks too late to make this movie seem like big news, because it has already destroyed all box office contenders. Chances are if you want to see it, you've seen it already, or you're planning to see it regardless of what I have to say about it.

But I'm still going to talk anyway.

Everyone has a completely illogical, irrational fear. For some, perhaps it is a fear of being terrorized by dinosaurs. For others it could be a fear of being stuck in a wacky time warp. For others still it could be a very erotic fear of being consumed whole by P.J. Harvey's big, sexy mouth.


For me, I am ruled by plenty of real fears (the deaths of my loved ones) and less rational but still somewhat understandable fears (tremendous fear of bugs and spiders). But my great irrational fear is this: I am afraid of being stranded in outer space.

It's true. I blame all of the sci-fi novels I read as a lad. I also blame movies, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I have argued for years is actually a horror movie.

The idea of being trapped in that airless, silent void, so far beyond possible rescue, left to float for all eternity...for some reason that is stuck in my head, and I have nightmares about it to this day. If you really want to freak yourself out, spend a few hours of your day reading about the secret lost cosmonauts. Then come back here and tell me you're not scared of dying alone in outer space. I'll wait.

So, with Gravity, to be sure, Alfonso Cuaron had my number.

I like Cuaron. I liked Y Tu Mama Tambien, and while I didn't really care for Children of Men, there's no denying that it was a visually impressive feat. (Just a kinda dumb and boring visually impressive feat.) And he did make the only Harry Potter movie that I think actually works as a standalone film. (Psst, it's the third one.)

But with Gravity, I can only confirm what you have likely heard: Cuaron has brought all of his visual talents to bear, accompanied by what one assumes was hundreds of millions of dollars, to create the most realistic looking space movie ever produced.

Notice I said "realistic looking", because that's what I mean, and nothing more. It LOOKS real. It is truly gorgeous, and it is the best use of IMAX since the 3D version of Ridley Scott's Prometheus. In fact, it may be the best looking 3D Imax movie ever made, if you care about that sort of thing.

However, it is a frustratingly imperfect film. For all of the effort spent making the movie look and feel real, there are a staggering number of unlikely events that unfold in the narrative arc. There are a lot of conveniences and Deus Ex Machina at play here. Simply put, a lot of things simply wouldn't work the way they work out here.

(Not to mention all of the actual scientific incongruities that a dullard such as myself would miss out on. For that, go see Neil Degrasse Tyson's Twitter feed).

Still more troubling than the implausibility of much of the plot is the completely unnecessary weepy melodrama associated with Sandra Bullock's character. Spoiler alert that doesn't really matter anyways: her daughter died in an accident, and it makes her not so happy about life and stuff.

Look, we don't really need any sort of emotional motivation for these characters other than "HOLY SHIT WE'RE STUCK IN OUTER SPACE AND WE'RE GONNA DIE". It just rings false and makes the whole affair seem more "movie like". The overwhelming drive for authenticity is ultimately hamstrung by bad dialogue, dumb ideas and implausible circumstances.

I know at this point it sounds like I didn't like the movie, but I did. I really did. I'm nitpicking what is otherwise a watershed moment in movie effects. This is Star Wars big, or (yuck) Matrix big, at least. You've never seen anything like this before. The tension is real. The action set pieces are masterfully done. You will hold your breath and curl your toes and not really even realize that you're doing so. George Clooney is at his charismatic movie star best. Sandra Bullock floats around in tight, tiny boy shorts, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

Gravity is intense, beautiful, scary stuff. It's worryingly dumb at times, but this is a rare instance in which the style absolutely wins out over the substance, and that's still ok. I'd recommend going to see it on the biggest screen available to you. Sandy's little shorts look best that way.

The ABC's of Death

As I mentioned last time (and by "mentioned" I mean "ranted about until blue in the face") I really adore horror anthologies. So I went into ABC's of Death with the same childlike, wistful optimism which characterizes so much of what I do.

ABCs of Death is a series of 26 short films from an international array of directors. Some you've heard of (Ti West, Adam Wingard, Nachovigalondo, Jason Eisener, and, uh, the guy that did A Serbian Film whose name I'm not even going to try to spell), some you've not (everyone else). To say the quality is all over the map would be a disservice to maps and overalls.

The unifying theme is supposedly "death". The real unifying theme is "amateurism". Each letter of the alphabet is related to something involving death. Some explicit, some metaphorical. Some of the films are humorous, some just go for the gross-out, and many go for both. Some are made with a degree of style and competency. Most are not.

There are a handful of well made pieces, but most of the short films are regrettably poor. Most of them are made in a "gotcha" style in which you don't really know what you're seeing until the block letters floating in a pool of blood pop up and tell you that you just watched "F is For Fart". And I'm here to tell you that "F is For Fart" was probably, honestly, my favorite of the bunch.

"F is For Fart" is a strangely erotic, pervy slice of Japanese oddness involving girls who like to smell each others farts, and then I think one of them becomes a ghost that lives in the other's butt. I may be misremembering, but that is definitely the basic idea. What I'm saying is this: Track down "F is For Fart" at all costs, and then set your television on fire before you allow yourself to watch any more of this movie.

Actually, that's not completely true. I did enjoy one other piece, "H is for Hydro Electric Diffusion", which wins the award for Most Resembling a Movie with Actual Production Values. It's like a live action Tex Avery cartoon where the implied sexuality is replaced by explicit furry nudity and nazi violence. So, ok, revise my original sentiment: rent and/or stream this movie, skip forward to "F is For Fart", pause for a few hours of somber meditation, fast forward to "H is for Hydro Electric Diffusion", and THEN set your television on fire.

But otherwise I would steer clear of the ABC's of Horror, and whatever you do, don't watch "P is For Pressure", unless you want to feel just gross and bad for weeks afterwards, like I still do.


It involves a video of a woman in stiletto heels crushing a kitten. Seriously, just don't watch it.


Seriously, again, don't watch it.

Nightmares in Red, White and Blue

If you're anything like me (and God help you if you are) then you've seen more than your fill of horror documentaries. Many of them were included as extras on the countless limited collector's edition VHS, Laser Disc, DVD and Blu-Ray sets we've bought. Others were splashed up on cable late at night when you couldn't get off of the couch because you were buried under boxes of Boo Berry and Big Chap model kits. It happens.

I tell you this because I don't want you to think that I am damning Nightmares in Red, White and Blue with faint praise, when I say it is good for what it is.

At the end of the day, you may get that "seen/heard this before" type feeling, and that is no fault of the producers of this film. That is simply because you, like me, have seen too much of this stuff to really find anything new.

That being said, let me tell you what this documentary about the history of the American horror movie (or as they put it, "The Evolution of the American Horror Film") has going for it:

1. Narration by Lance Henriksen. We love Lance Henriksen. LOVE HIM. So, good on ya, movie.

2. Interviews with directors who actually matter: George A, Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, ROGER CORMAN. It's stacked with the pros, and they actually get to talk at length.

3. The scope: This documentary takes a sincere stab at chronicling the ENTIRE history of the American horror movie, and makes all of the right stops along the way. The Universal Monsters, the atomic bug movies, Godzilla, William Castle, Herschell Gordon Lewis, 70's exploitation, 80's slashers, and more. They really do their best to touch on all of the major players and movements in the genre.

4. The clips: They play full, uncut scenes from the movies, including all of the gore and nudity you recall. They didn't sand the edges off.

So there you have it. The biggest complaint against the thing is that it's a fairly workmanlike talking head documentary connected by film clips from movies you've seen a million times. But that's not a bad thing. There's nothing really new here, nor is there anything really groundbreaking being done with the documentary format, but if you love this stuff then you could do worse than to spend your afternoon poring over bits and pieces of your favorite flicks, with enthusiastic experts like Dante, Carpenter and Romero as your guides, all held together by Lance's voice. If you're sentimental about your horror films, or just enjoy clip shows, you'll get your fix here.

1 comment:

  1. I never had any interest in seeing Gravity, despite the interesting director. My questions: Can I really accept that George Clooney & Sandra Bullock are astronauts? Haven't there been many other movies that have covered this topic before?

    ....What did you think of "R is for Removed"? I ask because it's the one directed by the "A Serbian Film" director.

    Did you watch Martyrs? Let's see that review! ...Not that it's really Halloween material to me.