WELCOME to this years' reviewz! This time around the selections are far more limited than in the past. I decided ONLY to view films with strong critical and audience reviews, cross-referenced through four different online sources. This seemed to work as most all were solid finds. There are still a few more I will view and review soon, but here is the major list for this year. Some selections are new films out this year and some are not, all are new to me. The reviewz are listed in order from most-to-least liked. This year's spotlight is on Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN, with a feature review. Enjoy...
THE HOST (aka: GWOEMUL) (2007) dir: Joon-ho Bong (MEMOIRS OF MURDER, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE)
My pick-of-the-year. Awesome! Interesting metaphor of modern politics manifest in a slimey pollution monster. The effects are amazing (think JURASSIC PARK) in this JAWS-like mix of emotional family drama with plenty of laughs. Characters are well developed and likeable. The moral seems to be that only family is dependable, whereas society just creates monsters. The first scene where the creature reveals itself and comes on land is first-rate monster movie making. A must see!
28 WEEKS LATER (2007) dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (PSICOTAXI, INTACT)
A strong follow up to the highly charged 28 DAYS LATER, this is every bit the film George Romero's LAND OF THE DEAD tried to be but wasn't. The story picks up 28 weeks after the first film, after the rage virus outbreak in the UK has been partially contained and a first wave of citizens are being allowed back into a safe-zone area. American military troops have quarantined the city and act as a patrolling force. Similar in themes to THE HOST, 28 WEEKS LATER comments on current political tensions in the world. The occupying US forces in both films are clearly a reference to the war in Iraq and the ambiguity of America's role in world affairs. Confused politics try to sort out an un-solveable situation. Ultimately, no one is portrayed as a straight-up "bad guy" except for beaurocracy itself. Things seem to fragment when they become social and political, rather than personal. The film opens with terrific tension, as a husband and wife are separated in a violent attack in their hide-away. The moral dilemma set up in this scene, serves as the genesis for all that comes undone as the story progresses. The message is clear that the death of personal, intimate trust becomes the death of the world. The classic horror theme of apocalypse through the disintegration of the family is represented here in an update of the Romero zombie tradition. There is something unsettling in both 28 DAYS LATER and it's sequel 28 WEEKS LATER- in that the zombie epidemic is not of supernatural in origin, but man-made. Not only is the "rage-virus" born in the labs of men, but it was an accident created in the process of trying to understand and perhaps control violence. Here is another classic horror theme of "not meddling in God's domain" and science as a "Pandora's box" of un-ravelling complexity.
Last year's lead pick was THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. This film is based on the same story but told in a very different way. A young German girl is breaking out of her small town and going off to college to be a grown up. The problem is her debilitating epilepsy which has stunted her youth and left her somewhat dependent on her family. As she slowly peels away her inhibited self and becomes an independent woman, she starts to manifest seizures that seem connected to her religious faith. No longer can she pray or visit her beloved church without having violent episodes. Strangely, her old-school priest tells her "there is no God, just literary metaphors" while a young priest asserts she may be demonically possessed. Her family must finally confront the gap between their daughters insulated life and her presence out in the world- as she girl breaks down into utter madness. The story takes place in the early 70's while cultural changes were abound in Europe and America. The ascension from youthful shelter to uninhibited adult parallels the girls spiritual and familial crisis. Are the demons real or is it her subconscious acting out in ways she consciously cannot? Are her aversions to religious matter merely symbolic reactions to cultural norms and restraints, or are there external forces at work? Is it all just a portrait of one persons insanity?? Ironically, it is the girl who carries the strongest faith. Disappointed in her religious elders, she charges them with heresy. The story begs the question: are we ultimately alone when it comes to matters of the soul?
1408 (2007) dir: Mikael Håfström (DERAILED, DROWNING GHOST)
This is one of those "is it real or all in his head?" psychological horror dramas. John Cusack plays a faithless man with a haunted past who makes a career of debunking myths about ghosts and the supernatural. Sure enough, he meets his match in the form of an evil hotel room that tests his very sanity. There is some interesting play on the "dream within a dream" angle only with surprising twists. Ultimately the story gets hard to follow in the third act, but the confusion serves the greater theme that it's not about reality or perception of reality, as much as it's about the faith one has inside. When Cusack is able to let go of his own life in service of a greater cause, he is able to escape a never ending loop that mirrors his own inner guilt. The story serves as an interesting allegory on the nature of one's own "personal hell." Well cast, acted and produced.
ALTERED (2006) dir: Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT)
My "drive-in" pick of the year. This movie was lots of campy fun! A good script with well drawn characters, back-story and dramatic tension. An interesting angle on aliens and hicks out in the woods. The FX are almost all non-computer based. Although the splatterfest gets campy at the end, this is creepy beer-drinkin' fun. A must rent!
LADY IN THE WATER (2006) writ/dir: M. Night Shayamalan (THE VILLAGE, SIGNS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE)
Sensitive fairy tale with the "Shayamalan Touch" (oddities all add up to divine providence in final act) Good performances, humor and really likeable collection of characters. Ultimately forgettable, but nice to see fantasy in the current age of reactionary "pain" cinema. Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH follows in this attempt to bring fairy tales to the mainstream once again.
SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006) dir: David R. Ellis (CELLULAR, FINAL DESTINATION 2)
Enjoyable drive-in fun that is not supposed to be taken seriously. The camp may not be quite campy enough, yet the humor is there and the effects good enough and the tension well played. Samuel L. Jackson in this film is the character we wanted him to be in SHAFT- but wasn't. ANACONDA meets AIRPORT '77 meets SHAFT.
DISTURBIA (2007) dir: D.J. Caruso (TAKING LIVES, THE SALTON SEA, TWO FOR THE MONEY)
Sort of "The WB's" renditon of OEDIPUS in the style of Hitchcock. I must say, the opening shock scene was very effective for setting up the empathatic mood of the film and it's main character. The first act was quite engaging as a young man is sentenced to house arrest and can't seem to catch a break. With nothing to do but observe the neighborhood from his window (REAR WINDOW) our young hero must focus his angst into a project. A hot new girl next door brings the romance and a mysterious man next door brings the intrigue (SHADOW OF A DOUBT). David Morse renders a very effectively understated dark evil twin of the young man's dead father. The playout in act #3 is sort of "The pretty kids win- because they're pretty" Your basic Sccoby-Doo ending "Those meddling kids!"
ZODIAC (2007) dir: David Fincher (SEVEN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM)
Not a horror film. Also, not particularly great. A shaggy-dog tale about the cops who endlessly endeavored to find the famed Zodiac killer in 1970's San Francisco. Spoiler alert: they never found him. If someone told you before seeing TITANIC that "the boat sinks" it's still enough of a drama to hold your attention. Not so much with this movie. Although this film is very well made, directed, cast and acted- it ultimately doesn't really offer much. Mark Rufallo and Robert Downey offer particularly key performances, although Jake Gyllenhall's character is a bit see-through. I did find the story compelling almost all the way through, but the ending disappoints. More interesting than the film itself is the technical facts about it's production. The movie was shot entirely in hi-def video straight to uncompressed hard drives. There was no video tape or signal compression as is standard for video based films. This is a milestone in film technology that is already being repeated and will become the new standard. The visual look of the film is solid as one would expect from Fincher. I found this to be the least interesting of all Fincher's works although it has been touted as his masterpiece. Hmm...
FROM BEYOND (1986) dir: Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR, DOLLS, DAGON, EDMOND)
Another H.P. Lovecraft attempt from the guys who made RE-ANIMATOR and the more recent DAGON, both of which a sorta liked. Although i'm not a fan of Stuart Gordon, i am a bit more of a fan of producer Brian Yuzna (SOCIETY, NECRONOMICON) so i gave this a shot. Also, i managed to miss this one back in the 80's so i thought i'd better see it- you know- for history's sake, right? Well... IT SUCKED! Everything about this film is bad- the casting, acting, lighting, directing, make-up, wardrobe- everything. The music cues are especially Z-grade. It's sort-of a lame Clive Barker wanna-be. The only perk is you get to see Barbara Crampton's ta-ta's back when she was hot. Actor Jeffery Coombs (RE-ANIMATOR and TV's STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and ENTERPRISE) is one of the strangest melo-dramatic B-actors in memory. So bizarre is Coombs that i don't know if he's so bad he's "good" in some un-tapped way...(?) However, he should never be cast in a straight lead role like they gave him here (make him the lunatic villian or sumthin') Skip this rental entirely and save your pennies for GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S UPCOMING LOVECRAFT FILM!
THE REAPING (2007) dir: Stephen Hopkins (LOST IN SPACE, PREDATOR 2, THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS)
aka: "THE RAPING- of my wallet." This was the one flick i did not research but instead saw in the theater randomly this year. Ouch. Sorely lacking in story and content, this waste-o-time is a technical exercise in suspense that goes nowhere in the end except (you guessed it) a big video game looking CGI fest of explosions and un-explained supernatural hoo-haw. Hillary Swank is far too talented for this fodder. A big shaggy-dog tale. Nothing you haven't seen a dozen tiimes before. Spoiler alert: it's a big secret devil cult and the whole town is in on it...blah, blah, blah... Skip this one.
HALLOWEEN (2007) writ/dir: Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS)
Next year the original HALLOWEEN (1978) will be 30 years old. i suppose there is room for a re-telling of such a classic that has done so much in it's genre over these decades. My opinion, however, is that the original still holds up and no re-telling is necessary. Phillip Kaufman's remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS(1978) retold a quite dated, atomic age paranoia film for a new generation of social concerns. John Carpenter's THE THING(1982) also did this. Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN asserts a new conceptual approach to a now classic tale, which comments on some of the same psycho/social themes, but with an entirly different affect.
The entire premise of John Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN(1978) was a commentary on evil as a manifestation of social subconsciousness. The film played the killer as a blank void- a space for us to read in our own ideas and fears. The white mask, the machanical robotic movements, the silence and the single-minded of purpose forged an antagonist purposely absent of character. "The Shape" (as he was referred to both in the script and the film's end credits) was a stand-in for our sexual repression, our fears of corporate anonymity, of the basal animal instinct inside each of us. This silence and ambient space of HALLOWEEN(1978) is what has given the film such resonance in it's time and over 3 decades since.
Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN(2007) takes a full departure from Carpenter's "ambience" by making the film entirely about the character of Michael Myers. Where character was absent before, Zombie seeks to fill in the space entirely. Such character development nullifies the core approach of the 1978 original. Nonetheless, Zombie treats his subject matter with much care and precision. Whereas Carpenter's vision created metaphor, Zombie's vision delves deep into the human story of a boy who becomes a psychopathic murderer.
The film reminded me as much of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER as it did HALLOWEEN. (there is even a direct reference to HENRY in one of the murder scenes) Gone are any of the subtle overtones to the supernatural that Carpenter allowed for. The central question of HALLOWEEN was and is, "is there a Bogeyman and who is it?" Carpenter says it's society, Zombie says it's the individual warped by society. In HALLOWEEN(1978) Michael Myers is a vessel for a greater, more super-human evil. In HALLOWEEN(2007) Michael is merely a lost soul who becomes a murderer.
Refreshingly, Zombie's film steers completely clear of all the cliches we're used to from 30 years of slasher films. In fact, his action scenes are played very realistic and he takes his time with visual treatments rather than rely on quick editing tricks. Unlike his previous films, nothing is played for laughs or "kitch" and although his regular band of character actors all make a presence, all give serious performances. The language however is way over-the-top. Zombie relies far too much on foul language, degenerate themes and verbal exposition to establish the nihilistic world of young Myers. The movie is really three films crammed into one. The first act is Michael's childhood life, second is his incarceration and the entire third act is the original narrative from Carpenter's 1978 version. At points in the third act, Zombie re-creates scenes shot-by-shot from the original. Some of the dialogue is exactly the same and the original musical score is used. The plot element of Laurie Strode actually being Michael's baby sister is borrowed from HALLOWEEN II. Carpenter's relationship between Michael and Laurie was more about the "revenge of the repressed outsiders" whereas Zombie goes for the family drama angle.
The major problem with Zombie's HALLOWEEN is in it's dramatic point of view. Departing from the original film, Zombie chooses to make the central protagonist Michael Myers. Michael becomes the hero character and we are given opportunity to feel empathy for him. By the time Michael has fully evolved into "The Shape" (Tyler Mane) in the film's last act, we are confused as to who to cheer for. Certainly the Laurie Strode character who was the lead protagonist in the original (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) is only a refernce in this film. Disappointingly, the Laurie character (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her high-school girlfriends are horribly portrayed with stock acting performances. Michael's obsessive doctor Sam Loomis (Malcom McDowell) is much a fly-by as well. With such an esteemed actor portraying Loomis, we might have expected more of a meaty and central role, but there is no depth and only confused evidence as to how much Loomis really cares for Myers or has really just exploited him- a theme left unresolved.
If Zombie chose to make his movie an homage, he failed. If he chose to make this a further telling of the Michael Myers story, he certainly succeeded but for what purpose? If the heart and soul of HALLOWEEN were about a character, then this film certainly fills in the blanks and answers the dangling plot questions. However, HALLOWEEN never was a character drama- it was a conceptual one. As for the nature of Michael's madness, we still do not see it. We witness the causes of Michaels' socio-pathic beginnings and we know that there are two parts of him and the evil part overtakes him. Despite all these drawn-in elements, somehow the original film in all it's subtleties drew much stronger allusions as to the nature of evil. Carpenter's HALLOWEEN(1978) is truly scary because it raises questions. Zombie's version is ultimately inert because it tries to give too many answers. Although Zombie did a competent job as filmmaker and delivered a calculated and well thought out drama, his central concept is ultimately much smaller than HALLOWEEN(1978).
Steven Spileberg's JAWS is a classic horror movie where you never see the monster until almost toward the end of the film. 30 years later Spielberg made a very inert remake of WAR OF THER WORLDS in which he shows the creatures and lets the air out of the balloon. Perhaps we don't know where to go with horror these days. In our post 9-11 universe of terrorism and radical fundamentalism, scary movies are going over the top with meditations on cruelty and in-your-face-gore. There seems to be a conscious need to face the ugliness of evil rather than allow it to remain below the surface where it draws power. Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN(2007) finds itself curiously inbetween these social dynamics. Cetainly Zombie is fascinated with the nature of madness and the stripping away of human virtues down to pure nihilism. Wes Craven made a career of this themeology in his works. What is Zombie's message telling us? Perhaps there is no message, only continued questioning.
Fittingly, the film is dedicated to Moustapha Akkad, the executive producer of the original HALLOWEEN(1978) who made a career out of producing all the sequels over the years. Tragically, Akkad was killed along with his daughter at her wedding in Lebanon a few years ago in an Al Quaida terrorist bombing. Malek Akkad served as a producer on this new film.
8-31-07 i saw an advanced screening (8-30-07) hosted by 91.1 Live FM Radio, Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company. I even got my picture taken with actor Tyler Mane (Michael Myers) and an autographed poster.