Thursday, August 25, 2011

Three Movies that Give Horror Hope

By Chris Dimick

Take that gun out of your mouth.
I know, I know. It has been hard out there for a horror fan recently, what with all uninspired sequels, remakes and retreaded teen horror nonsense vomiting onto the crimson screen.
Believe me,  I've walked along the ledge of a few bridges myself.

But what's always lead me safely away from a watery death is the knowledge that while the Hollywood Machine of the 2000s and 2010s has produced few spectacular horror movies, the independent horror movie scene is still dead and bleeding. That's horror code for alive and thriving!

For every Nightmare On Elm Street remake, there is a Let the Right One In. For every Saw sequel, there is a Session 9.

Below you shall find three horror movies released in the last two years that prove the genre is far from becoming a rotting zombie.
One might need to look harder nowadays to find excellent horror movies, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there -- hiding, in the woods perhaps, waiting for you to machete their limbs and insert their soul into your eye-holes.

Where mainstream horror has failed (Make another Twilight movie Hollywood, and I'll Bella your Edward) independent horror has still found a way to gross us out, make us scream/laugh, and delight in its weird randomness.

Gross Out Excellence --
The Human Centipede (2010)

Background: Shock horror is welcomed for its ability to make one scared by making one hurl. But the problem with this sub-genre is that it requires the perpetual crossing of society's lines.
In this age of torture porn films and Ultimate Fighting Championship on cable, one might think that every line has already been merrily skipped over. What more could "they" do to sick me out? The Saw and Hostel movies are f-ing torturing people!

Then came The Human Centipede (First Sequence), the 2009 underground independent hit written and directed by the strange and mysterious German freak Tom Six. The title pretty much says it all, it's about a mad scientist that, well, isn't content with nature's centipedes and decides to make his own.

Plot: A mad scientist kidnaps and mutilates a trio of tourists in order to reassemble them into a new "pet"-- a human centipede, created by stitching their mouths to each others' rectums. Can they survive!? What happens when one needs to drop off the kids at the pool?

Why it Gives Hope: How original! How creepy! How... disgusting. Just when you thought all the body horror had been done by David Cronenberg, here comes this little number about sewing people's mouths to others asses.
Its cross a line, yes, but that is not what makes this film great shock horror. It could have easily been a one brown note film. But the way Six sets up the situation, and really pulls every drop of ickiness from it in a very serious tone, the audience may squirm but they also can't look away.
It has all the gross out qualities of torture porn, but with an actual story, heart and soul. You won't feel right after watcing it... like any good horror movie should make you feel.

Comedy/Horror Excellence --
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Background: Yes, we all loved Shaun of the Dead. It was a zombie movie that made us laugh, yet still retained important plot elements not found in other horror/comedies like the later Scary Movies -- characters we cared about and a plot line worth following. 
A film can nail a parody, but what makes it watchable is a solid fresh story.  Since Shaun came out many imitators have tried to recapture comedy blood in a bottle -- here's looking at you Vampires Suck -- but didn't come close. Then came Tucker and Dale.

Plot: Two lovable West Virginian hillbillies are headed to their "fixer-upper" vacation cabin to drink some beer, do some fishin', and have a good time. But when Tucker and Dale run into a group of preppy college kids who assume from their looks that they must be in-bred, chainsaw wielding killers, Tucker and Dale's vacation takes a bloody and hilarious turn for the worse. 
The college kids start trying to kill them! Or, at least that's what it looks like from their cabin.

Why It Gives Hope: Finally a fresh take on the horror-comedy. This movie turns the tired killer inbred hillbilly cliché on its mutated ear, while digging into the deep thought of how influential perspectives and point of view are in one's interpretation of the world. 
It makes you think. It makes you laugh. It makes you cringe. The horror comedy is alive, and this film proves it. A true original.

What the Hell Was That?
I Loved It! Excellence --
Rubber (2010)

Background: There are some horror movies that are just so strange, you can't really tell if you liked them after the credits roll. At the same time, these ground-breaking films are just too bizarre and interesting not to love, if only for their creativity.
Films like Eraserhead, Suspiria, Altered States, and Silent Hill (gonna piss some off with that last inclusion, but don't pretend like it wasn't a trippy visual thrill ride).
Seems people aren't willing to take zany risks in horror anymore. What happen to the scary weird?! Thankfully, Rubber delivers it in droves.

Plot: When Robert, a tire, becomes self-aware and discovers his destructive telepathic powers, he soon sets his sights on a desert town; in particular, a mysterious young woman who becomes his obsession.

Why It Gives Hope: The movie is about a killer tire. And if you think that is weird, things just get weirder when the fourth wall is broken and live-time movie "viewers" gain a storyline of their own. This horror movie taps squarely into the absurdist movement currently sweeping through comedy and other art. It is trippy, out-of-the-box, creative, enthralling, strange, and entertaining as hell. I'm going to stop trying to describe what it is, because words don't do justice. Needs to be seen to believed. And enjoyed. Fresher than Springtime and Will Smith combined! 


See, plenty of horror to live for! Aren't you glad you holstered that Colt. Go fire up that DVD player and I'll get us some popcorn. There is life after Scream after all.

A shame on Hollywood for not mass releasing these aforementioned gems. But it's not too late. It's up to the power of the people and their DVD/streaming players to right this great wrong, and turn these films into the house-hold hits they deserve to be.

Spread the red word... you could just save a life by watching these deaths.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Remakes: Good or Evil Dead?

By Chris Dimick

What if your parents said you were old, tired and ugly at age 30?
Not just that, but Mom and Dad felt the world deserved a more contemporary, sexy version of you.

“You know son, the entire family loves you, is proud of your success and place in the world. But, you’re 30 now and each of those years is fully showing. Yeah, you might have some cultish friends who still think you are cool, but they are just as outdated as you are.

Look how cheesy your dress and hair is, the way you talk and look, why, I bet you don’t even know who Justin Bieber is.

We will always love you and appreciate what you have done for our family, but we’ve decided to bring an updated version of you into the world. A remake so to speak. A fresh you for the information age that has more spunk, more action, more coolness, knows what “planking” is.

“What’s planking you ask? Exactly our point. Don’t worry, we’re sure there’s a nice piss smelling retirement home around here somewhere for you to die in. You know, that place called Blockbuster.”

Couldn’t happen? It’s exactly what Sam Raimi did when he announced that his classic horror film, 1981’s “The Evil Dead” is being remade. And the masses shouted, “Hollywood is ripping him off! The original is perfect, why remake it! Burn the witch burn the witch!”

So chanted horror fans, at least until they heard the next sentence. The Evil Dead remake is being instigated not by some fat-cat Hollywood studio head looking for a quick buck, but the original creators themselves.

Are They Selling-Out?
Raimi, who wrote and directed the film, is being joined by Dead’s original producer Rob Tapert and star/producer Bruce Campbell to produce the remake – retaining some creative control of the finished film. They are championing the remake?!
And at that point, Evil Dead fans across the world put down their torch, just a little, and fired up the puzzler.

The fact that the original Evil Dead creators are so gun-ho about remaking their baby, the film that started it all for them, and a film that started a love of horror in so many of us, has caused many genre fans to remake their opinion on remakes. Including this guy.

Should classic horror movies, or any classic movies for that matter, be remade? Does it take away from the original to have a sleeker, more modern version of a film sitting right next to it on Netflix’s digital movie rack?
Should purists protest this new version of Dead, or embrace it as a way to see a modern take on a beloved story?

We’re Doing It For The Children
Raimi, Tapert and Campbell are aware their decision to remake Dead will cause backlash, and have preemptively struck with various quotes in the media covering the announcement.

 “We’ve always talked about doing it,” said Tapert in a recent Detroit Free Press article. “There (have) been pros and cons to why would you do this and why tamper with something. The truth of the matter was, is, that it was a movie that was meant to be seen in theaters, in the drive-ins, and virtually no one saw it in the theaters. They’ve all seen it on DVD.”

(From Left) Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell circa 1981

It’s true, Evil Dead barely screened in theaters but found its true fan base through rentals on VHS and DVD. But that alone is not a reason to remake a movie. Raimi and friends could just re-release the film in theaters. There are plenty of horror hounds who would cut themselves for the chance to see The Evil Dead on the big screen. This guy included.

But they didn’t stop there in the justification for tree-raping their wooded tale (you’d get that if you’ve seen the movie. Boy, would you get that).   
Some of the effects in the original film appear a bit dated during modern viewings (though not by much). And the films relatively low budget lead to some creaky moments.
Tapert told the Free Press the new age of visual effects gives a creative director license to up the gore and scare of the Evil Dead story.

That director will be Fede Alvarez, a no-name film upstart known mainly for short films (a bio very similar to Raimi’s early years.) The original Evil Dead script is getting modified by a bigger name, Diablo Cody, who wrote beloved indie dramedy “Juno” and the underrated Megan Fox slasher “Jennifer’s Body.”

Remaking Evil Dead, Tapert said, is about passing the horror torch to a younger generation of filmmakers, and horror viewers.
“We found some young filmmakers who need the same opportunities we got,” he said.
All this talk really sums up to this: we aren’t just doing this for the huge paycheck. But there is a huge paycheck, and fans are manning their battle-stations.

To See or Not To See
A line has been drawn in the sand by fans of the Evil Dead Trilogy. Some are delighted that some fresh Evil Dead blood will soon splatter on their face.
Others are appalled that Raimi, Tapert and Campbell would desecrate the 30-years-rotting corpse of the original film by digging it up, slapping CGI-makeup on its bones, and parading it around town under the guise of “passing the torch” to a new generation. More like passing the bank teller their paycheck.

I don’t buy the argument that remade horror movies bring attention to the original films.
More often, they just upset fans of the original and disappoint new viewers to the point they don’t want to see the original.

Personally, I’m still tip toeing that demilitarized zone between excited and angry over this remake. Which side I’ll eventually jump into won’t be determined until I see the remake film. Am I happy they are remaking Evil Dead? Sort of.  Am I pissed off they are remaking it. Sort of.

Again, the original Evil Dead is a perfect film. Much like "Casablanca," or "Some Like It Hot," or "The Exorcist." It doesn’t need to be remade, and can stand on its own 30-year-old legs to this day. In fact, it will always stand up strong, as true classics do. But just because it doesn’t have to be remade, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

Some horror remakes end up being just as good or even better than the original – like 2004’s Zach Snyder remake “Dawn of the Dead.”

Fact is though, it is a rare thing for a remake to match or exceed the creative success of the original. Usually Hollywood should just leave good enough alone. For example, Gus Van Sant’s 1998 horrendous remake of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece “Psycho.”

The remake was a shot for shot, line for line redux of the original (except for some gratuitous masturbating by Vince Vaughn’s not at all creepy Norman Bates). The fact that the original script and shots were used showed just how genius Hitchcock was in his direction.
Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche are just as good of actors as Janet Lee and Anthony Perkins. It was Hitchcock’s direction and attention to every detail that made his work surpass Van Sant’s.

Please Swallow My Soul, Again
My dread is that The Evil Dead remake is going to face the same fate as Van Sant’s Psycho. Horror fans have been scalded too many times to believe the stove top isn’t hot. But I hope not.

I find it exciting to be able to view a new take on one of my favorite horror movies – as long as the new version at least stacks up to the original. Having Raimi, Tapert and Campbell on board definitely helps its chances.
But at the same time, the original is gold. It’s innovative, creepy, offensive, gory, spooky and has a stunning ending. What more could you want in a horror film? Better still, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Bruce Campbell says he welcomes the handshakes and punches fan are ready to dish out over the remake.
“I think it is fabulous. Let them debate,” he told the Free Press. “They just have to know that we’re in the debate too. We’re there. We’re reading the scripts. We’re making notes. We’ll be seeing the footage.”

Break out the icy hot, Bruce. Come Fall 2012, when The Evil Dead Remake plans to hit theaters, there will be plenty of people with opinions – along with either clutched fists or open high-fiving palms.

Best and Worse Horror Remakes
The horror genre is jam-packed with remakes, from 1930s classics like Frankenstein being remade over and over the last 80 years, to needless 1970s trash pics getting new needless life in the 2000s, like My Bloody Valentine. Below, an examination of the remakes that should and shouldn’t have dug up the past for another play on the silver screen.

Dawn Of the Dead (2004)
George Romero’s original was more insightful and satirical, but Zach Snyder’s remake amped up the action while still including social commentary. Best of all, the introduction of running zombies and an opening sequence that can cause heart attacks was enough to win over even the purist Romero-zombiehead.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Wes Craven created the original shockfest in 1977, but by the mid-2000s the movie was overdue for an update. By that time the original’s “offensive” moments had nearly all become clichés. Wes produced the remake, and helped guide this offense slasher shockfest upped the plot as well as the offensiveness.

Halloween (2007)
Nothing can ever compare to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece about a serial killer hunting a babysitter. Remake director Rob Zombie, a devoted Halloweenie himself, understood this fact, and decided to instead to do an all out alternative universe retelling of the story, set in modern times. It was different enough to feel like an original movie, but similar enough to play as a respectful homage.

The Thing (1982)
This time it was John Carpenter paying homage to his favorite horror movie. Based,  though very loosely, on the 1951 sci-fi/horror film “The Thing From Another World,” this remake toned down the cheesy “it came from outer space – scary!” vibe of the original and replaced it with creature feature gore meets pscare-ological 1980s paranoia commentary.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Faster edits and more gore never a better horror remake make. This fact was lost on the creators of the unnecessary do-over of Tobe Hooper 1974 genre-changer. The remake was just as depressing as the original, and just a tab more gory (which is saying a lot), but this movie lacked what the original delivered so well… suspense, creepiness, originality, and pitch black humor.

Halloween 2 (2009)
Yes, Rob Zombie succeeded with his remake of the first Halloween. But this bastardization of the original 1981 Halloween sequel was enough to make most horror fans hope Michael Meyers would turn on his director. The “original” additions to this remake were uninspired, boring, and devolved the character of Laurie Strode into an unlikeable anti-hero. It reeked of “punk-power” nonsense that, while different from the original, was not a modern welcome. Should have quit while you’re ahead, Robbie.

Psycho (1998)
As discussed above, this shot for shot remake was completely unnecessary and provided the viewer with nothing more than a justification of the brilliance of Hitchcock’s 1960 original.
Vince Vaughn as Norma Bates was great as the Dr. Jekyll-like nice guy hotel keeper, but lacked in his Mr. Hyde psycho killer counterpart. And again, director Gus Van Sant, Hitchcock made Norman keep it in his pants for a reason… the clown punching was unnecessary. This is a cheap Hollywood stunt, and every copy should be burned.

Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
The original 1960 “13 Ghosts” is a William Castle classic, with spooky, light horror fun for the whole family. It was funny, it had lame ghosts, and it was fantastic. This remake seemed like a convention for overacting, with Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Lillard and a gaggle of other B-list actors confused about whether the film was a horror flick, a family movie, or a comedy. The answer? None of the above.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Film #73: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Desperate men do desperate things.
Facing eternal loneliness, Danny DeVito cut his losses and married fellow half troll Rhea Perlman.
With starvation on the horizon, the Donner party chowed down on some baby back ribs.
Locked out of his house and running late for a Cubs game, Chris threw caution and safety to the wind and jumped over his backyard privacy fence – shattering his ankle in the process. And then still went to the game.

But even these fantastical follies don’t compare to the desperate acts performed by the infamous Baron Von Frankenstein, the antagonist (or is he the protagonist?) in this week’s stop in horror history, “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.”

After being run out of his native land for creating murderous monsters, Frankenstein travels to London to meet up with a like-minded doctor he’d been corresponding with – Dr. Brandt – who has also been experimenting with reanimating dead tissue.

But when he arrives, Frankenstein finds Dr. Brandt has gone insane from the stress and horror of his work, trapping vital scientific knowledge in his now prison of the mind. Frankenstein needs those secrets to continue his work… but how to retrieve them?

Luck seems to be on old Dr. Frank’s side, as the boarding house he sets up in belongs to the lovely Anna, fiancée to young doctor Karl who happens to work in Dr. Brandt’s mental hospital.
When Dr. Frankenstein learns Karl has been stealing drugs from the hospital in order to sell them to pay for the treatment of Anna’s ailing mother, he seizes on the chance for blackmail.

Under threat of turning in the drug-pedaling love birds, Frankenstein forces Anna and Karl to help him restart his experiments and kidnap Dr. Brandt from the mental hospital. Why?
So Frankenstein can use the loony tunes to attempt the first ever brain transplant and eventually cure his mental mind. But why help the nutjob? Frank plans to retrieve the final secrets to successfully storing the brain indefinitely thereby preserving history's greatest minds for all time (his included no doubt!) and conquering death once and for all!

Will Dr. Frankenstein and his evil ever stop?
Can Karl and Anna ever escape Frankenstein’s grasp?
Do all British detectives talk like "yes yes yes, very well very well very well"?
Find out, in the 1969 Hammer horror classic, “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.4
Chris Dimick franken-groans:
“Ignorance should never stop science. Nor should superstition. Throughout the decades that Dr. Frankenstein and his sci-fi experiments have been portrayed, a running theme has permeated through these films. Dr. Frankenstein is a genius with good intentions, but things go awry and soon pure science is blamed for fallible man’s mistakes.

A conflicting message is presented in many Frankenstein films: the pursuit of science and medical advancement should not be held back, but when left unrestricted, grave monstrosities are a major risk. Of course, in order for this message to play out we need the Frankenstein Monster present in the film. He is the definition of monster and medical miracle. And he is fascinating to watch.

But old electro-bolt head Frankenstein's Monster is nowhere to be found in “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.” His absence is highly noticeable, since the audience is now forced to examine Dr. Frankenstein more closely. This film had an entirely different take on the character.

Instead of a brilliant yet unlucky scientist, in this film Dr. Frankenstein is depicted as a demoralized, raping, blackmailing criminal who will stop at nothing to fulfill his life’s work of reanimating the dead.

In the past you could root for Dr. Frankenstein, at least a little bit. But in this film, you despise him (unless you are Nick, who admitted to rooting for Dr. Frank! Shame, Nick! For shame...). Dr. Frankenstein is murdering innocent victims for body parts, raping his assistant's finance, and scheming a widow to allow him to experiment on her husband's brain. There is nothing noble or even likable about Dr. Frankenstein in this movie… but contrary to intuition, the take is refreshing.

Hammer Films, the production company that produced this movie, was known in the 1960s for reinvigorating the horror genre with spicy and controversial flicks. They didn’t disappoint here, taking a very 1969 approach to the olde-timey Frankenstein legacy. It is less spooky and more adult horrific. A man’s insane drive to succeed where he has failed time and time again is examined. Dr. Frankenstein, foiled over and over in his work, has finally snapped and will stop at nothing to finally be successful. Peter Cushing as Frankenstein is perfect stuffy and insane casting. He is so cold.

By 1969, the Frankenstein Monster had fallen a victim of his own popularity. A 30-year-old monster isn’t scary anymore after it has been satirized and placed on too many Halloween masks. The writers of this movie made the correct choice to leave the green skinned, misunderstood monster out of this movie.

While it was hard for me to watch Dr. Frankenstein turn so evil, after I had admired him so much in earlier movies, it was a natural progression of the character.

He had been through too much, and finally snapped. Understandable. The pursuit was no longer for science, but for pride. And nothing would stand in his way. It is an equally powerful message, and lesson about the dangers and wonders of science -- it can consume a man."

N-Rating: 3.6
Nick Rich franken-groans:
"I think this was my second experience with a Hammer film, but dang-nabbit if I didn't plum enjoy it! Go on... take Frankenstein's hand... what bad could come of it?

After all, there were no crazy sets (although the sets seemed authentic), no crazy special effects (although the effects seemed realistic enough) and no crazy acting (well, maybe a little bit of craziness from the tenants at the institution and Peter Cushing)... and yet still this film left quite an impression on me. Maybe it's because the back 9 of the project has yielded more low caliber films than the front, but recently I seem to react to decently interesting films like a man in the desert who stumbles upon a hidden oasis - I drink them in with abandon!

Perhaps it was the subdued British acting or the old-school, yet modern feel of a film shot in the late 60's, whatever it was, something about Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed really hit home on my enjoy-o-meter. It was a simple story, but so different from any other Frankenstein take I'd seen that it had my attention throughout the film. I also appreciated the excellent use of tension in as Frank and his unwilling associates were constantly on the verge of being discovered. Sometimes this kind of tension can seem forced or overdone, but in this instance it was handled quite nicely. Also of note was the lighting, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the interesting efforts displayed in this flick. Most of the scenes were meat and potatoes in the lighting department, but occasionally there would be a pocket of seasoning and BAM! you'd be slapped in the face with shock of illuminated goodness.

Now, as Chris mentioned, yes I somehow found myself rooting for the mega-evil Frankenstein in this film. Even though he murdered freely, blackmailed frequently and even raped the sweet woman he was blackmailing... I still couldn't help but cheer for his quest a bit. I think this reaction had something to do with Peter Cushing, whom I had previously only seen as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. The intensity Cushing brought to the role and the fervor with which he pursued his 'lofty' goals of advancing science (and how much the entire world was against him) naturally made me gravitate towards siding with him in the struggle of the film. Did I agree with all the horrible stuff he was doing? No! But I sure wanted it all to be worth it in some fashion (as if it could be) by giving him success in his experiments.

Of course you're reading a review written by a man who defends the other side of an argument when there is no one present to do so (even if I don't agree with what I'm defending)... Hopefully Dr. Frankenstein will be as gentle with you as he was with me.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you want a no-frills but solid good time with an interesting story or if you've ever wondered what would happen if the only man who could make Darth Vader blush was unleashed upon 19th century London."

Things We Learned From Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed:
-When conducting a RDHP viewing, make sure you are both watching the same film.
-If you break into a house, you have no right to be horrified by what you find inside.
-British people fight wussily.
-M. Night Shyamalan was a victim of his own early success.
-Fancy name for a killer doctor: medical adventurer.
-Red shots make the spiders go away.
-The word “claptrap” needs to come back in style.
-Sometimes you really don’t recognize your face in the mirror.
-A good woman stands by her murder.
-A kiss and a drink cures a bad day.
-Nick sleeps in a low cut sheer top. And it breathes very well.
-Forest green looks great on redheads.
-You can’t buy fresh bread at the Fresno Jimmy Johns.
So don’t even ask.

Quote of the Viewing:
[In the mental hospital, a woman patient starts to have a freakout, imaging spiders crawling all over her body. Dr. Karl rushes in with a needle full of red sedative.]

Karl [to fellow staff]: "She hates injections, but it is the only way to calm her."
Nick: "Who does like injections?"
Chris: "Heroin addicts."

RDHP Presents:
1969 -- The Most Boring Year in History
Years come and go with at least some excitement, but never has there been a more boring year on the planet than 1969. Thankfully the RDHP were not yet born in this mundane year, but if we were I'm sure we would have killed ourselves from boredom. Below, we examine 1969, and the reasons why it is officially The Most Boring Year in History!

People went on boring summer trips.

None of the concerts really rocked.

Foreign affairs were peaceful and lame.

Everyone was getting along at home too.

Fashion was very stuffy and subdued.

No one cool was born that year:

Trey Parker

Edward Norton

Christian Slater

Jennifer Aniston

Dave Grohl

Jason Bateman

Tracey Gold

Yep. Most. Boring. Year. Ever.