Horror Movie Marathon - Day Two - 24th October 2010

Before we start here are -
Things the wife learnt from this weekend's horror movie marathon:
1) the better your apartment is, the more likely you will be killed in it;
2) beware of blonde-haired, blue eyed children;
3) bully's will be punished;
4) doors opening and closing by themselves is never the wind;
5) midget creatures cannot speak, but are amazingly strong;

6) 3am is NOT a good hour for anything.

Right, so here we are on the second day of our marathon of movies and in no way has my excitement dipped at the prospect of watching more horror movies, in fact I am beginning to think this might be a pretty wondrous way to spend every weekend. There is some discussion about what film we should watch first and then the day is underway.
First up is...
a chance for me to eat my words from yesterday evidently.
If you have read my review of Paranormal Activity you know I said that shaky camcorder/found footage horror movies must stop and, for the most part, I would I still greatly stand by that. From Cannibal Holocaust through Blair Witch to Paranormal Activity and it's head scratchingly popular sequel, 99% of them are utterly worthless but like every rule there are the few that brake it; I said that Diary of the Dead, for example, did work for me and I wasn't expecting that it would.
So here is the addendum to the rule:
If the use of camera is strictly integral to the plot, the camera and sound is good, watchable quality, if the film is paced, produced and feels like a real movie and if it is called REC then it's ok.
I have to say, I did not have high hopes going into this film, that's why I voted for it to go first, as it was a found footage/shaky cam horror film from Spain but in the middle of the day, with a group of us in the room, REC surprised, shocked, scared me and far exceeded my expectations. As with some of the other, relatively new, films that I watched this weekend I don't want to spoil too many of the surprises or shocks of this excellent piece of cinema so I will just set up the film for you like this:
The film starts with a local news team of two hanging out in a fire station after dark, doing a piece for their show 'While you were sleeping' which documents what certain people get up to in certain occupations over night. She interviews the chief and then the boys having dinner but suddenly realises that if there isn't a call it's not going to be a very interesting piece, not that she wants anyone to be in danger but filming firemen sleep is not what she had in mind. Luckily they get a call that someone has locked themselves in their flat and so off they go, camera in hand, to catch on film what should be a routine operation. Of course, from the moment they get into the building it is clear, from talks of screams etc. and the huddled mass on onlookers in the foyer, that all may not be as it seems. Before long, quite a bit of hell has broken loose and everyone, including the camera man and his host, are trapped inside by authorities outside.
What is tremendous about this film is that it turns the usual zombie/monster siege idea on it's head because instead of being a film about: we can't go outside there are hordes of zombies out there let's wait it out in here, this film is all about: we can't go outside, we're trapped and there maybe a zombie in here!
From that excellent premise which is well set up, with a good build that doesn't show off all it's tricks straight away but doesn't drag its feet either, the film goes on to include an examination of the nature of human beings reaction to illness, the idea that documentation of such events is important for the future and perpetuates a heightened sense of being trapped and the four walls and darkness closing in around you. The film-maker cleverly reducing the amount of space the protagonists have, making it smaller and a smaller till it becomes unbearably tense and claustrophobic. It even has elements of The Thing as the story unravels, with each of the survivors pointing the finger at the others as the possible starter of this contagious zombifying disease.
Along with 'Let the Right One In' this was one of my favourite films of the weekend, a startling discovery that there are still people out there breathing new, exciting and unexpected life into old ideas while maintaining classic scare techniques, plot points and making the following, not the debunking, of the rules the thing that was ultimately satisfying about both visionary films. Also, unlike a lot of modern horror attempts, especially those with a handheld, first person camera style to them, REC remembers to be bloody scary.
9 out of 10
Points from the Wife 8 out of 10

Less of a horror movie and more of a court room drama, The Exorcism of Emily Rose has no idea what it really wants to be. Is it a modern update of the 'girl gets possessed' story line with all new CGI effects, polished Hollywood sheen and a startling performance by newcomer Jennifer Carpenter? Is it an earnest 'based on a true story' drama about belief and the law starring a couple of serious heavy weights like Linney and Wilkinson? or is it a completely unbelievable slice of old hooey in which the only way to really go with the story is to surrender rationality and believe in god?
I don't know. It felt like all three at different points of the film.
Now, the idea of taking something like The Exorcist and extrapolating what would happen, realistically, if the girl died and the priest was convicted of a crime is a pretty good one, I don't mind suspending disbelief for a good ridiculous court room drama and I love a good creepy possession movie full of bone cracking sound effects and eerie contortions of the body but despite being pretty much all that and an ok paced, well acted film I can't say that The Exorcism of Emily Rose did anything for me.
My main problem with it was the tag-line 'based on a true story'. Now we all know that when we read that what follows is likely to be about as truthful as a politician on a chat show but in this case the disclaimer that this was 'based on a true story' conflicted so violently not just with the ludicrous, Hollywood style plot of the film but the over-the-top visuals and directorial style too that it ultimately ended up spoiling my enjoyment. Then to include a so-called twist and climax that is entirely predicated on whether you believe in god or not and an absolutely laughable moment when an earnest jury member interrupts a previously strict judge that facilitates a Disney ending to the whole thing, only goes to make the entire endeavor completely worthless. This is no more based on a true story than the bible itself.
Like I said before though, if you get rid of that stupid bit about it being a true story, it is a competently put together bit of courtroom hokum with some effective flashback sequences depicting some rather cool possession effects. Just nothing new or interesting here and after REC it really fell flat for me.
5 out of 10
Points from The Wife 4 out of 10

After the other two successes we'd had with original foreign language movies this weekend I had high hopes for Ju-On or 'The Grudge' as we call it. This is a film I'd never seen but I knew that it was apparently so good the Director himself made it a total of 7 times, 8 if you include the computer game. It was also a film that came with the high recommendation of none-other-than Sam Raimi (he even lends a praise filled commentary to the American DVD of the Japanese version) but, for whatever reason, I found the whole thing underwhelming, boring and needlessly confusing.
Many times we stopped the film during its run to check just what the hell was going on and each time it was explained I would think, yes, that's what I thought was going on too, is that really all there is to this film? It keeps playing like there is so much more to it but really, no.
It's just a not-very-scary, mostly downright bland, inconsistent and silly haunted house movie.
Call me weird but I don't find Japanese children painted white particularly frightening, especially when shot against a stunningly, depressingly boring, beige background doing absolutely nothing. There was no use of lighting to speak of, no attempt to build atmosphere or scares using sound design or camera angles and maybe, yes, I am too used to the traditional Western way of doing things in horror movies and yes maybe the subtly of the score or the use of real lighting as opposed to 'scary movie lighting' was a bold, brave, cool Eastern way to approach horror, I don't know. What I do know is, I didn't like it and it wasn't scary. Also the attempt to make the thing remotely interesting by cutting up a tediously simple linear plot into lots of little stories seen from individual characters perspectives, jumping all over the timeline with a lazy disregard for the audience, ended up with the whole thing leaving me with an annoyed, gritted-teethed 'did I miss something?', "that was it?' vibe.
It's a shame because I wanted to like it but the whole thing was a difficult mess of nothingness to wade through.
3 out of 10
Points from The Wife 1 out of 10

So, this weekend we had three foreign language movies that all shared the dubious distinction of being deemed good enough to warrant having been remade for American audiences at some point, a couple of disappointing possession movies, one Canadian melodrama from the 70s and three, what I would call, classic American teen horror movies from the late 70s early 80s, the sort of which I grew up on a steady diet of. The last of these final category of movies and the film that, for the wife and me ended our marathon, was the highly underrated Sleepaway Camp. I am sure that, at first glance, to the common horror movie goer of the 80s this looked like just another poor rip off attempt to cash in on Friday 13th. In reality it plays more like a bizarre, twisted, x-rated version of Meatballs. Firstly it's the dictionary definition of politically incorrect, it covers subjects that make you rub your eyes, shake your head and say 'wow did they just go there and do that?!' and it is gloriously irreverent and strange. To attempt to describe this scattershot, bonkers and pleasingly weird little film would be futile, all I can say is that, if you can find it, watch it because it really does do things that no other film of its style or genre barely bother to go near. When you think of all the horror films of this period, all of them in one way or another pushed the envelope on gore, violence, special effects, death set pieces and nudity but rarely do they go beyond the theme of: there's a bad person, with no morals or much reason coming after me in the dark but Sleepaway Camp is sort of entirely the opposite. The deaths are not exactly the most inventive on film, although they are rendered competently enough, there aren't that many deaths through out the film anyway and the plot itself, people come to camp, there are bullies and sluts and they are punished by a killer that stalks them in the woods, is as rigidly adhered to and formulaic as can be but it's in the dialogue, the characters and the nutty crap they get up to that makes this film stand apart from the likes of Friday the 13th and have its very own little, unique corner of this wild and inventive genre.
To watch this and really 'get it' you have to have a healthy sense of humour, an appreciation for the left field or off-kilter and a love of ridiculous horror or B movies. It is also the perfect film to watch in a group as the reactions of others to the strange and quirky unfolding of the story will be as much of a joy as the film itself. It, therefor, made a perfectly fitting end to a tremendous weekend of movies that, whether they were good or bad, all added up to a fantastic experience that I am, already, dying to repeat this weekend.
7 out of 10
Points from The Wife 7 out of 10

Wrong Turn - 29th October 2010

Horror Movie Marathon - Day One - 23rd October 2010