Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I had heard about "Man Bites Dog" before, and I couldn't help but notice it was eerily similar to one of my favorite horror movies, "Behind the Mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon," except it was older, so it was more the other way around. Anyway, I finally got around to watching it, and I have one thing to say.


Seriously, ow, this movie does the experience equivalent of kneeing you in the solar plexus before kicking you in the face. It's not hard to watch because of merciless camera or editing work, it's not hard to watch because of shaky camera or uncomortable lighting. No, Man Bites Dog is just plain merciless.

The story follows Ben, a serial killer, as he is followed by a camera crew documenting his murderous exploits. The gang get involved with rival serial killer and various other murders that the camera crew takes part in or otherwise assists.

Unsurprisingly, murders is a rather big part of the movie, but the way they're played makes them way more disturbing than any Hollywood kill I've ever seen. Somewhat more surprisingly, the thing that's the most disturbing about it all is that so little time is actually spent on showing the murders. Most of the time, Ben is chatting idly about this and that, before a brief kill or two is shown, and this makes it increasingly unbearable to watch. Why doesn't this dude talk more about what he does? Is he, and the film crew, assuming we understand? Is he uninterested in being understood? Is there even something to understand?

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of graphic violence too. Cracking of necks, brutal beatings, strangulation, more gunshots than you can shake a colt at, each and every one of these has certain elements of unplesantness to them, but the really disturbing part usually comes from the reaction to the violence. For example, in a late scene, there is a party. Everything goes typically partylike before wham, Ben kills one of his guests, and the rest of the guests continue as if nothing happened. Also, there's a rape scene, and if I ever wondered if Ben's companions were just as despicable as he was, I did not doubt after that.

While talking about despicable characters, Ben pretty much takes the cake. No joke, this sexist, racist murdering madman is about as hard to feel sympathy for as one can get. There's only weak hints of humor in his speech, and he doesn't reflect on any other level that the purely practical over the murderous acts he commits. In one way, you can kind of admire that, and when reading some of his quotes after watching the movie, he appears both eloquent and somewhat humorous, but in the moment, there's no mistaking it, he is a monster. A true, pure monster.

I've pondered on what exactly moved me about this movie. Could be the way numerous deaths are bagatellized to the point where it's but a footnote, or possibly the logic operating behind the insane minds who decided to follow Ben. Also, the fact that I actually have to remind myself even now, that it was, indeed, just a movie.

I'm on kind of an non-hollywood roll here. I've planned to watch both the original Funny Games and Irreversible, and we'll see how I'm handling that.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On Rec and Remakes 2: The Showdown

The day has finally come. After much doubt, much waiting and much pessimism, it was at last time to watch the remake of my absolute favorite horror movie thus far. Quarantine was remade from the Spanish flick Rec a good half year after the original came out. I'll be perfectly honest, I am biased, considering how Rec is, as mentioned, one of my favorite horror movies. Also, I am going to compare Quarantine to the original, because it's more of what people in the games industry like to call an updated re-release than an actual remake. Also, finally, there will be discussion of specific scenes, so spoilers ahoy.

Large parts of the movie is pretty much Rec in American, moved to LA for your convenience, but there are some changes. For a brief moment, I thought that the movie actually closed a plot-hole from the original, namely how the disease got from patient zero (the dog) to patient one (the old lady.) However, the movie quickly dismisses that, and leaves us, like the original, with a great big "it just happened, K?"

While speaking of the disease, Quarantine doesn't seem to want to decide if it's going the usual Hollywood-exposition route, or just leave us in the dark. For one, the disease is quickly identified as a superrabies of some sort, thus removing the zombie-aspect. Fair enough. It's not what I'd call a good idea, in fact, I find it quite silly. However, a rather large chunk of exposition was removed from the original in favor of hysterics from the main characters side.

For a while, I wasn't going to let myself be bothered by this movie, you see. I had more or less decided to go with the "It's essentially Rec light"-approach, but that was before the last part of the movie. In Rec, Angela Vidal is a strong woman who actually behaves like a TV reporter, probably because she was played by one, and is a mostly functional survivor even when she finally panics. In Quarantine, Angela Vidal is whiny, hysterical lady who doesn't as much feel like a reporter as an actor playing a Reporter. No joke, for the last half hour or so of Quarantine, Angela's shrill panicking shrieks makes the movie very, very annoying. Doesn't exactly help that 75% of the men in the movie are always Action Hero-Calm (tm), always capable of a soothing, calming pep-talk with the increasingly unbearable Angela. Implications? We don't need no stinkin' implications.

Now, fortunately, Angela isn't the only character who has been hit with the Nerfbat. Part of what I like about Rec is that it has the very real-feeling shaky camerawork, without sacrificing picture quality. Pablo from Rec actually kept the camera fairly steady even when the shit hit the fan, while Scott on the other hand mans the camera like an hyperactive 14-year old. I'm no expert, but one are not supposed to zoom in and out or change angles in the middle of an interview. Night-time TV or not, one simply doesn't do that. Also, Scott methodically chooses bad angles and crops the images weirdly, even before the whole zombie-situation arises, this does put rather huge dents in the all-important immersion. It doesn't feel like a two-man TV crew doing their business before turning horribly wrong, and in that respect it does at replicating Rec.

Also, while on the topic of the camera, there's one scene in Quarantine where Scott beats a zombie (rabid woman, I dunno) with his camera. I'm certain that was meant to be awesome, but as far as I see it, it was more breaking the already strained immersion while being kinda ridiculous. Also, the fact that the camera works perfectly afterward just doesn't fit quite with my idea that cameras are made of plastic and fragile technology rather than iron, steel or kickassium.

When it comes to miscellaneous other annoyances, there's plenty. For one, the characters in this movie seem stupider than in the original, in itself a feat. I mean... chaining a woman infected with a disease that will turn her into a killer... thing to the middle of the stairs rather than somewhere... y'know, she can be a zombie without blocking of a possible escape path. Near the beginning, where the second firefighter falls down without any warning, the makers of Quarantine were so kind to add a scream, presumably to scare us more, although it did take most of the surprise out of that scene. Also the firemen seem a whole less professional, but that's merely nitpicking, almost not worth the mention, hadn't it been for that Manu from Rec is awesome and Jake from Quarantine is... not so much.

But as I mentioned earlier, apart from these annoyances, Quarantine still has some of the things that made Rec great. The atmosphere is pretty good and some of the scares are still very well-timed and such. However, it'd be best just to stick with the original

Saturday, February 21, 2009

30 days of night: ramblings

Ah, 30 days of night, a horror movie built upon an extreme version of the Norwegian situation. At some point, when the sun goes down, it's not going back up again for a good while, now, what doesn't happen in Norway, at least to my knowledge is fanged, clawed creatures of the Night, enjoying the restriction free gore-filled superhappyfuntime for 30 consecutive days.

I didn't have all that high expectations to this movie, I figured it'd be good vampire hacky-slashy fun, ye' oldee Evil Dead style, except with vampires instead of demons. Still, I can't help but feel a little dissapointed. Maybe it is that it doesn't quite feel like 30 days of night as much as “30 days of 'nightlit' hollywood filmstudio.” Yeah, for a movie that's all about the darkest of the dwellers of darkness, 30 days sure is bright. Sure, I couldn't quite expect The Hills Have Eyes-style darkness, but it'd be nice if it looked a little less like an overcast day where I'm from.

Also, the vampires annoyed me a little, mainly since they seemed to suck quite a bit at a job they've had centuries to perfect. To stop beating around ye oldee bush, they don't drink blood all that well. Sure, you can't expect all vampires to be aristocrats a la Anne Rice-bloodsuckers, but these people seem more preoccupied with making a bloody mess rather than eating. It could be their tendency to slash their victims needlessly with their claws, or their general eating habits in general. I mean, if they captured people and drained them properly rather than run up to them on the street, take a few slurps of redrum and then make sure the lest pumped all over the surrounding snow. Don't get me wrong, snow covered with blood is awesome, but one would think the vampires had learned self-control and planning, especially considering how much work went into the whole op. Also, I can understand them gorging themselves a little when their plan finally bear fruits, but if they have 153 people to eat during 30 days, you don't eat or kill 148 in less than ten and then try to sniff out the remaining ones later. That's just bad planning.

While on the topic of bad planning, let's have a look at the idiot ball, our old friend and business associate. The main character, Elbert seems to be juggling a couple of these and a hero ball. His almost lemming-like desire to sacrifice himself to save someone, quite frankly anyone, quickly gets old, almost to the point where he finally succeed worthy of a laugh track. Y'see, emotionally involving, this movie ain't , although I realize there could have been some more dexterous plucking of our heartstrings, had the pacing allowed it. Still, it leaves the mushy, pinkest part of my heart somewhat unsatisfied. In itself not unusual in the genre I like to call my favorite.

Finally, the movies climax is somewhat lacking. Again, I feel I might be requiring a bit much from my movies here, but the duel between two vampires should not look like a drunk tavern brawl with the power turned up to eleven. Sure, we can't all fight elegantly, and the ridiculously overcompensating guns of Hellsing are nowhere to be found, so I s'pose the superpowered rednecks would have to do, still, it ain't greatlike.

All in all, you can do worse than "30 Days of Night," but it's not the best horror movie you'll see.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

It's not every day horror movies provoke me. Sure, horror movies may suck, or be unnecessarily disgusting, heck, their directors might even be enormous assholes that with their all-encompassing ignorance and arrogance, but still, it's forgivable, it can still be nice, gory fun.

The movie that has the doubtful privilege of actually making me roar with rage this week is All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. It appears to be rather standard slasher fare. Mandy Lane, virgin survivor girl du jour and her cast of largely forgettable horny, pot-smoking, walking targets, go out to a ranch to get drunk and, to prove their utter and undeniably manhood, or absolute subtle female charm, get in Ms. Lanes pants. It's the circus we all like to see people go to have sex, people die, dispatched in rather clever and inventive ways.

Actually, the entertainment one manages to wringe out of the movie is actually quite adequate. Low on horror, a good chunk of gore, the killer seems a notch above the rest of them due to his morbidly black humor and imaginative ingrate icings, people are dangerously stupid, but it keeps it all together.

Then, along comes the ending.

I've seen my share of poor slasher film endings, the annoying, the obvious remake hook, even those who makes everything in the movie so far completely pointless, I'm looking at you The Reeker, but luckily, few movies fully explode in on themselves and create a black hole, absorbing all previously attained fun, replacing it with some cold hunger for entertainment.

I have a policy to not spoil, but you know what I wrote a paragraph or two above? That one about the murderer being somewhat interesting? Well, I hope you didn't get to attached to that part of the film, 'cause that's murdered brutally towards the end, leaving us with a plot twist that just doesn't make sense.

Ok, that's probably a bit unfair, it's actually pretty clever, and I hadn't seen it comming. You know why I didn't see it comming though? Because it comes out of fucking nowhere. We're talking Giant Space Flea Outta Nowhere-level outta nowhere. I consider myself pretty savvy, but I didn't see a single clue for this. NOT. ONE. CLUE. Not a single camera angle, not one line of dialouge. Heck, I had more belief in the epleptic tree "Mandy Lane is a man," than this.

You know, one might argue that a good plot twist shouldn't be seen comming, but there are limits. A good plot twist will have you look back on the movie and go "ah, yes, so THAT'S why." not glare dumbfoundedly back and say "wow, that really came outta nowhere." And if it only that was the only example. The fact is, the movie runs around between various semi-twists like a lobotomized golden retriver after a bacon strip, seemingly not caring to stick to an actuall plotline aside from the uber-basic "Horny teens, psycho kill they ass."

The above mentioned whimsical screenwriting only serves to reinforce the mental image of a pack of amateur scriptwriters off their ritalin writing random parts of the script, unable to agree on even the most basic plot elements except there are, sadly, no aliens or song/dance numbers.

I've heard this movie is supposed to be a new, fresh take on the teen slasher genre. It's not. Both the director of this movie and a certain mr. Shyamalan seems to think that all there is to innovation is to pull a random plot twist up in the last moment, a plot twist that rather often destroys what the movie has built up thus far. Behind the mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon is a fresh take on the slasher genre through deconstruction and toying with the rules, The Strangers is toying with our expectations to really tug our nerves, that's how you do it, with wit, inventive screenwriting and flat-out nervewrecking atmosphere, not by last-minute asspulls.

Hmph, that's pretty much all I have to say about that for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Strange

There's a reason I love horror movies. Not so much my overwhelming desire to walk around and be scared out of my wits in my daily life, but rather the intense one-night stand with Lady Adrenaline that the really good ones bring about. Well, not to muse too much about that, it's discussed in greater detail in the not quite great libraries of activity that is my blog. Anyway, finding a good horror movie is always fun, and The Strangers, in that respect, gave me more fun than a barrel of zombie monkeys, that and a deep sense of dread.

Kristen and James retreats from a friends wedding to James' fathers summer home, they're both low in spirits because of a marriage proposal turned down, of course, being a horror movie, that won't be their chief concern. When James leaves to get cigarettes and Kristen is left alone in the dark, isolated house, you know things are going to get bad, and get bad quick.

It's this expectation that drives us through the beginning of the movie. In good slasher tradition, this girl should be slayed, bisected and wrapped up neatly in ten-fifteen minutes, all tension leaving the movie like it just remembered it left the kettle on the stove. Now, The Strangers could do this, but it doesn't. We observe Kristen acting like an actual sensible human by locking the door instead of going out to investigate those odd noises. Of course, we know it won't end there, and this only furthers the creepy atmosphere. The heroine of the story is no ditz, no fool, and thus, neither the villain or the scriptwriter can be one.

The movie really only becomes more creepy after that, we realize, maybe slightly earlier than Kristen, that there's someone in the house. The someone in this case is three mask-wearing psychos, but they hardly have any screen time at all. However, we are always fully aware they are around, lurking just outside the poor protagonists field of view. The fact that they can still seem like genuine threats without killing anyone for so long in the movie is impressive, to say the least.

The ending is also quite chilling, and thusly impressive, seeing as a denouement easily can rob a movie like this of its intensely scary atmosphere, but no, it's chills ever on.