Sunday, October 02, 2005

Oh, the HORROR of it all!

By B.E. Earl

As I said in the last post, here is another great article written by B.E. Earl. Since he gave it to me over a month ago, some of the "Upcoming" movie references may now be a tad outdated. Please blame my excessive laziness for this fact, and not the fact that B.E. wouldn't know a good horror movie if it came up and bit him on the ass (which it just might, one day...those things are ORNERY).

Hi, folks! Earl here. I recently saw a commercial for a new horror film that will be coming out to a theater near you shortly. It’s called The Cave, and I was interested enough to check out some of the details on IMDB.com yesterday. Not “interested” in actually going to see the film, but more like “interested” in how derivative it appears to be. The trailer showed a group of divers (or some kind of adventure seekers) getting trapped in a network of underwater caves. Then some kind of Big Bad begins to pick them off, and it appears as if it either infects some of the team members or takes over their bodies in some “body snatcher/the killer is amongst us” kind of way. I don’t know the exact details, and maybe I never will. But three films jumped to mind as soon as I saw this commercial. John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (victims assimilated by beastie in remote location), Pitch Black (maybe because Cole Hauser is in both), and Alien (replace deep space with deep caves…now THAT is clever).

When I checked the feedback on IMDB.com, I saw that many of the posters were comparing it to a British film by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) called The Descent. Apparently they have some very similar plot lines, although The Descent has yet to be released theatrically in the US. This got me thinking about the sad state of the Horror genre in American film over the last few years. Here goes:

To get a good feel for the assortment of Horror films that have been produced in the last few years, I once again consulted the oracle of all things, er, movie-ish in IMDB.com. They have a great search engine within their own site called a Power Search. So, I looked for the top 100 Horror films (as voted by IMDB users with at least 1000 votes) that were produced from 2000 to 2005. I then culled the herd by dropping anything with less than a 6.9 out of 10 rating which left me with a not so round 26 films. They are as follows (with foreign titles translated into English):

Film Rating Country
1. Battle Royale 7.9 Japan
2. Shaun of the Dead 7.9 UK
3. The Others 7.8 France/Spain/US
4. Vampire Hunter D 7.7 Japan/Hong Kong
5. Butterfly Effect, The 7.7 US
6. Descent, The 7.7 UK
7. Bubba Ho-Tep 7.6 US
8. Tale of Two Sister, A 7.6 South Korea
9. Saw 7.5 US/Australia
10. Frailty 7.4 US/Italy/Germany
11. Dawn of the Dead 7.4 US
12. Devil’s Backbone, The 7.4 Mexico
13. Ring, The 7.4 US
14. Happiness of the Katakuris, The 7.3 Japan
15. Identity 7.3 US
16. 28 Days Later… 7.3 UK
17. Irreversible 7.2 France
18. Visitor Q 7.1 Japan
19. Brotherhood of the Wolf 7.1 France
20. Devil’s Rejects, The 7.1 US
21. Ichii the Killer 7.1 Japan
22. Dark Water 7.1 Japan
23. Eye, The 7.0 Japan
24. Land of the Dead 7.0 US
25. Ginger Snaps 6.9 Canada
26. American Psycho 6.9 US

As you can see there is a decidedly international flavor to the list with the US only accounting for 11 of the 26 films. It’s no surprise that Japan is second on the list with 7 entries, followed by the UK with 3 films. Now, before I start to critique these films let me say that I have seen less than half of the titles listed. But that isn’t going to stop me from “Eberting” them anyway.

Let’s start with the American Films. Right away I can whittle this group down by excluding comedies (Bubba Ho-Tep), remakes (Dawn of the Dead and The Ring), sequels/rip-offs (Land of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects) and any movie that stars Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect). This leaves us with a tidy five US-made Horror films in the last few years that meet our haughty criteria.

The Others by Alejandro Amenabar is a wonderfully creepy film with an engaging cast. Part of it was even filmed here in Huntington at Oheka Castle. But considering the director’s origins (Chile) and the fact that the cast is mostly British or Australian, this film really takes on an international tone. The US is also listed third in the credits for country of origin behind France and Spain. So this is a tough one to include as being truly “American”, for me at least.

Saw by James Wan is also a film that includes some international ties. Mr. Wan grew up as an Asian in Australia, and this is his first film working in the US. That aside, it was a very creepy serial killer film that kept audiences guessing until the very end. I’m still not 100% sure what the hell happened, but I know that I liked it. It is sure to be ruined by numerous sequels, but this film stands out as something highly original.

Frailty by Bill Paxton (I didn’t realize he directed it) is an unusual film for me to judge. I liked all the performances in the picture, and the novelty of the plot wasn’t lost on me. It very nearly works as a perfect study of mental illness and its’ effect on the family. However, I find it hard to include as a Horror film, per se. The fact that I wasn’t frightened or horrified in any way might be the problem I had with it. I don’t know. It just didn’t “get” me the way a good Horror film should.

Identity by James Mangold is another film that I was surprised to see on the list. I did enjoy seeing it (big fan of John Cusack), and it’s “Ten Little Indians” plot was fun to watch unfold, but as with Frailty I feel that it didn’t encompass some of the elements that define a good Horror movie for me. It was if I was watching the movie just to see what the “big twist” was going to be.

American Psycho by Mary Harron (based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel) was just a crazy, crazy movie with everyone’s favorite Batman, Christian Bale, giving us an over-the-top horrific performance as the title character. The very real moments of pure horror are offset by some very funny insights into the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980’s. The narrow edge of what is real and what evils lie solely within Bale’s character’s mind is what makes this movie so much fun to watch. Well, that and Willem Dafoe. Man, that guy is just creepy to look at!

Did you notice a common thread between these five films? I mentioned it while talking about Identity. All five of these films include a “big twist” ending. It’s as if American Horror in film have become almost solely derivative of 1999’s The Sixth Sense in the past few years. Yeah, I know…the “big twist” in American Horror has been around since Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho (and probably way before that), but it seems to be steadily building momentum. There is nothing wrong with it, but it bothers me that I thought that a great film like The Others was slightly tainted because I left the theater thinking that it was really good, but The Sixth Sense did it a little better.

Now the non-US films on the above lists really include some original and grand examples of Horror, and Japan is definitely leading the way. Most of the top grossing Horror films made in the US nowadays (The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water) are remakes of original Japanese Horror films. It’s like the obsession Hollywood had with remaking French Comedies a few years back. The old “let’s take something of theirs and make it ours” kind of philosophy. In most cases, the original far outshines the remake, but American audiences seem to really have a problem watching foreign language films with subtitles. Sad.

Battle Royale (so I’ve heard) is just a brutish “Lord of the Flies” tale of a group of school children forced onto an island with the intent of murdering one another until there is a sole survivor. It is so brutal that it is not available through mainstream avenues in the US, nor is it likely to be remade here in this country due to its themes of violence and children. Visitor Q, Ichii the Killer, The Eye and Dark Water are all highly praised as truly original entries in the Horror genre. Vampire Hunter D is an animated film, but one that is supposedly one of the best examples of Horror/Anime around. From what I’ve read of The Happiness of the Katakuris, it may not belong on the list as its’ tale of a family taking over a remote hotel is told in a Musical/Comedy setting.

There are some other great original films on the list made in the UK, France, Mexico and even Canada. I’ve already mentioned The Descent, but Danny Boyle made zombies cool again in 28 Days Later…, and Edgar Wright made them funny in Shaun of the Dead. Brotherhood of the Wolf is one of my favorite movies (in any of the genres it fits) made in recent years. Its’ visual style and martial arts action fit well with its’ historical accuracy. If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and check it out. The Devil’s Backbone is Guillermo del Toro’s (Hellboy) breakout hit from a few years back, and this guy has a film style that looks good even in crappy movies like Blade II. Another personal favorite on the list is Ginger Snaps out of Canada. I really liked the idea of a werewolf movie as a metaphor for puberty and all the wonderful things that come with it. It may not have been as downright scary as Dog Soldiers, but I enjoyed it just as much if not more.

Well, I managed to trash American Horror a bit more than I praised International Horror, but you can see where I wanted to go with this. The focus here in the US seems to be more on generating box office gold by more derivative means, while the creative side of Horror is left to filmmakers abroad. Hey, I appreciate a good film no matter what country it was created in, but let’s hope that this trend slows down in the near future. Horror films have been a staple in the diet of American filmgoers for a long time now, and we are getting a bit tired of the stale servings of late.

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