Friday, October 17, 2008

The horror...the horror!

I've seen a handful of horror movies recently and I haven't written on this blog since the first post so I guess it's high time I hit this bitch up with a little more flavor, so I'm going to talksies about them. It is also, I recently discovered, October and people like being scared this month more than any other so it seems appropo.

Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds [2008] **

I've been waiting for the "Feast"sequel for about a year and it was announced to be filming just before the writer's strike began last October so it was pretty much the only good news for about ninety days and now a year later I can officially say that it wasn't really all that great of news to begin with.

The meat of the picture (Ha! I said meat) concerns a gang of biker chicks led by the twin sister of Harley Mom (Diane Goldner) from the first film, looking for Bozo (Balthazar Getty) because he blew Harley Mom and one of the monsters to hell with a homemade bomb. We know this because Bartender is briefly tortured into giving Biker Queen (that's her name) the goods on Bozo. He omits, and possibly on purpose because everybody thought he died of a heart attack so they left him, the fact that Harley was as good as dead because the monster had severed one of her legs. Or maybe Sis just doesn't give a damn and would have buried her proper but all she can find is a damn hand. So Biker Queen, Bartender and her cohorts head into a neighboring town looking for Bozo.

Bozo's Trans-Am is gone and they eventually stumble upon a small group holed up in an apartment, guns are drawn and people are killed then out stumbles Honey Pie (Jenny Wade, bloody, beautiful and long suffering), the abandoner from part one, who is beaten viciously by Bartender and thrown out a window. She finds refuge in a convenience store for most of the movie, separated from the eventual group of survivors that includes the biker gang, bartender, a used car salesman named Slasher (Carl Anthony Payne), his adulterous wife and the salesman puttin' the meat to her, a couple of Lucha Libres and their grandma who spends most of the film rotting after getting sprayed with acid during the monster autopsy.

"Feast 2" is a pretty big departure from what I would do with a sequel and, you know, it's not that I'm jealous that I didn't get to write the thing I can just tell you that mine would have been better in every way with the possible exception that I wouldn't have had keen sense enough to add people vomiting ad nauseum, nor would I have had a monster dick spray semen during an autopsy for about a minute straight. The discharge of body fluids is about the only thing in the movie that subscribes to the more is more approach of filmmaking.

I think they're might be the same amount of blood, its a hell of a lot less funny and more characters are standing at the end. The monsters are slower and suckier and the reprisal of the dead kid joke from the first one, applied for shock and legitimately raising the stakes for one of our heroines in the original, is applied to an even more unpopular target (read: cuter and smaller) and felt pretty firmly like a "f-ck you" to me for coinciding with the moment I thought that the film had more affection for it's characters than the original. I never thought the kid's death felt cheap in the first one and none of the little people slams like calling them "pygmy motherf-ckers" feel wrong. Beating the shit out of a woman who abandoned you and your friends to die and then biting off her ear doesn't feel wrong and neither does an alien having sex with a cat on-screen but this other thing kind of makes me feel like less of a person.

The monster attacks are a little more coherent this time around and I don't know whether to attribute that entirely to John Gulager realizing that shaky cam monster attacks are a pretty surefire way to disengage and disorient your audience or if the movie is just so damn bright you can't help but notice things when they happen. There is, towards the end, pretty copious use of CGI and blood and I can see the legitimacy of marrying the two here and there like when a freak accident unrelated to a monster attack befalls a character, but when you have human and monster interaction with CGI thrown in when the monsters are clearly rubber suits then you don't really succeed at doing anything other than reminding us that what we're watching is an inferior product that isn't as engaged with delivering the goods as the first film was.

All that being said, "Feast 2" is kind of less of everything but discharge. It is, after all, only half of a movie in the grand scheme of things.

Red [2008] **

I've been a pretty big fan of the last two Jack Ketchum adaptations given the cinematic treatment, the terrifically disturbing and unforgiving "The Girl Next Door" and "The Lost" about a frighteningly charismatic psychopath in the vein of Charles Manson, if "Girl" is pefect and "The Lost" is a little long in the tooth it bears wondering how exactly "Red" could go off the rails. Like it's precursors "Red" seems firmly rooted in the nostalgia of by-gone eras, tinted in nostalgia or filmed exclusively on lazy Sunday afternoons, it has the crucial atmosphere of a Jack Ketchum story translated to film going for it, it is also a somewhat slow moving character study with many pretty damn good performances. So where does it go wrong and how?

"Red" is not a story of evil in the same way as "Lost" or "Girl Next Door" it is about a man actively seeking justice for a wrong that has been committed against him. I wish I could tell you that the problem is that the movie is about a hero instead of a villain, but the villain gets some pretty decent face time and he's a pretty big son of a bitch (not in size, but in attitude). The question really is sanity. There are psychos and schadenfreudes abound in the filmed adaptations of Ketchum's work and I can't really complain about that but the hero of "Red" is Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox), a widower whose dog gets murdered by a couple of punk kids that want to rob him. For Avery this is like losing his family all over again, his dog Red is the only reminder of his once idyllic life and to a very small extent I can see how a dog is one's lifeline to the world. Man's best friend and all that but everytime I see a dog lover in real life I still see a sane person. Ketchum doesn't seem to feel the same way and it's a problem.

Avery finds out who the kids at the lake are and he pays a visit to their respective families, hoping for an apology from the offenders and maybe even for their parents to impress upon them the wrongness of their actions, but the boys' denial of the events is enough for their parents who dismiss Avery as a crazy old man. The law isn't offering Avery much comfort as killing animals carries a punishment so paltry that Avery prefers the apology. In an effort to obtain the apology, a reporter (Kim Dickens) does a human interest piece on the local news, but it becomes clear that nobody gives a damn about Red except for Avery and a couple of sympathetic locals who by comparison don't care nearly enough. The apathy drives Avery batshit and he wants to get all "old testament" on their asses. This is where "Red" runs into all of it's problems-- hoping for anything more than an apology is too much and the way the situation escalates into a final shootout is beyond belief. The old man probably would have been arrested for his persistent stalking or a judge would order the boy to pay a fine long before it came to the point of throwing bricks through the old man's window or burning down his store became the order of the day. Also, as much as the local gun dealer loves his dog, who saved him, when he accidentally shot off his own foot, something tells me that were his dog brutally murdered he wouldn't kill the people who did it. Maybe he's got a family at home unlike Avery that can help him along in his grief or maybe he is just a rational person. Anger is one thing, being a psycho is quite another and even still I can't reconcile getting hell bent over a dog.

"Red" is probably just fine as a read. It works on paper as a cathartic exercise to purge yourself of the anger you feel towards the brutal murder of your dog, but turning it into a film throws into sharp relief how crazy the notion of being an avenging angel for a murder dog is. The premise is noble and I'd like to say that I understand it, but I don't. People laugh when they hear the synopsis for the film but it isn't funny it's tragic yet there's no denying that it can't work as a film because it's too irrational for anyone with sense to comprehend regardless of their sympathies.

That said, the performances are terrific pretty much all around with Cox and Kim Dickens as the reporter forging a pretty believable relationship rooted in how noble she finds his cause, but also in how much she likes the sad haunted old man. Kyle Gallner plays the younger brother of the film's sociopathic murderer and he brings a much needed degree of sympathy to the bad teens who wronged Avery. Noel Fisher plays the son of a bitch ring leader pretty well.

For a movie I don't have overwhelmingly negative things to say anything about from a craft standpoint it might be too much of an overtly dick move to drop two stars on the film, but a lot of what happens doesn't feel right. It would never get this far regardless of the emotions of the people involved so sympathy be damned I'm just not with you on this one.

Dance of the Dead [2008] ****

There's a pretty astonishing moment about midway through the unapologetically awesome "Dance of the Dead" that redefines what you might realistically expect from a movie about the kids who couldn't get dates to the Prom (or didn't quite make it there) showing up with their gym teacher to kick some zombie ass and save what's left of the townspeople from impending flesh eating doom. After taking refuge in a funeral parlor and fighting their way into the morgue the group's resident badass/school bully is besieged by a cadaver sprung to life and suffers a fatal bite to the jugular. With his dying breath he asks Steven (Chandler Darby) to make him a promise to "kill them all." As much as they hated him everyone is shocked, saddened and feeling pessimistic about their situation without him. In the midst of their mourning he wakes up and everyone beats him to death. In this moment, the film finds an honest gravity to the faux life or death importance we give certain situations (getting a date to the prom, getting "the girl") or the sometimes morbid fantasy of taking the school bully down a peg. It isn't the first time the film does it either, but the less said about those moments here the more surprises the film will ultimately have.

It's probably worth noting at this point that I think "Dance of the Dead" is perfect. Every character archetype is represented in a way that feels like reverence. There is no smugness on behalf of the characters or the filmmakers, moments of humanity are allowed to float to the surface and comedic and serious tones are perfectly balanced. Chandler Darby as Steven, the unlikely boyfriend of student council president/ prom queen hopeful Lindsey (the lovable Greyson Chadwick), has an attitude that is best described as not giving a fuck. He gets dressed down by his asshole chemistry teacher, gets head butted by the school bully for insinuating that his sister would be his prom date, gets dumped the day of the prom and still, in the midst of zombie fighting, talks about Mr. Badass' predilection for farm animals. I'd like to call him this film's Bruce Campbell where it not so screamingly obvious he is Judd Nelson. On a similar note, the school bully is this film's "Some Kind of Wonderful" Elias Koteas first scene skinhead. And Greyson Chadwick is hot now unlike a certain Molly Ringwald who didn't get hot until 40.

Is it fair to put "Dance of the Dead" in the shadow of John Hughes? No, but it is fair to say this kicks John Hughes' ass in every way. If any American movie can use a song on it's soundtrack as expertly as this film utilizes Shadows of the Night during it's climactic prom showdown I'll show you a movie that I might just have to (in the words of Tracy Jordan from "30 Rock") take behind the middle school and get pregnant.

This isn't the end of the horror reviews by any stretch of the imagination. We've still got some time in October and I love horror so you should expect these kinds of writing with some frequency. Thanks for stopping by.