Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas III: Red Eye

Ah, this probably is my favorite Craven movie, and considering how utterly and completely nuts I am about Nightmare On Elm Street... and Scream, I suppose, that's saying something. Funny thing is that it's not really a horror movie, well, not entirely, it's more of a thriller, but  it does get into a bit of a horror/action movie mix towards the end, so it's good enough for me. Also, it's pretty damn good.
Very effective poster, I'd say.

Red Eye is the story of a hotel manager named Lisa, played by Rachel McAdams, who finds herself on a red eye flight, thus the name, sitting next a charming fellow named Jackson Rippner, played by Cillian Murphy. In many ways, it starts out like a romantic comedy of sorts, but that all comes to a close when Rippner reveals his agenda. Turns out he's working for some ill-defined group of badguys, and he's keen on having Lisa pull some strings to make an assassination attempt on a visiting VIP easier. If she refuses, Rippner is prepared to have his men assassinate her father. Also, he is dangerously psychotic and hates women. What follows is a battle of wits as Lisa tries to get herself out of trouble without condemning a man and his family, or her father, to death.

This is one of those movies that basically has one major set, inside the plane, and most of the movie's actually spent in the two seats where Rippner and Lisa are sitting. For that reason, the film is rather dialog-heavy. It doesn't suffer from it, though, the part where Lisa matches wits with Rippner is easily the most interesting part of the movie. I maintain that the reason for this is that is that the two main characters have excellent chemistry, and they're both quite impressive actors. Special props has to go to Cillian, because he pulls of the switch from "charming and helpful" to "misogynistic and psychotic" quite well, makes me think of 28 days later and the "In the house, in a heartbeat"-scene, but with woman-hating crazy instead of righteous rage-crazy.

This movie was released the same year as "flightplan," and both being thrillers set on planes with female protagonists, I suppose they might have had some kind of "dueling movies"-kind of thing going on, but in my mind, it's no contest. Flightplan wasn't horrible or anything, but it felt like it had to cheat to get the plot to work, and the tension wasn't half as great. Also, no Cillian Murphy.
Did I mention I think this guy makes the movie yet?

In the traditional understanding of horror, this movie barely qualifies, as I mentioned earlier. It's rather firmly placed on the "thriller"-side of the thriller/horror divide, but it's very suspenseful, and it's a good movie, Craven's best in many ways, and that should be good enough. It does also make it quite a natural ending point for A Very Craven Christmas, and I hope I've motivated those of you who haven't gotten around to updating yourself on Wes Craven's catalog of movies to do so, and hope you all have a good New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas II: Scream

This movie is in a sort of weird place for me. Being a child of the 90's, I experienced a lot of my friends being into this movie, but I, being a huge wimp at that point in my life, would have nothing to do with it. When I finally watched the movie, though, it was different from what I expected. While my contemporaries had pitched the movie to me by describing the most fucked-up fatalities, that really isn't the most memorable part about it, but that's enough introductionary banter, let's have a looksee at Scream 1.

Being a stereotypical slasher in every sense of the word, Scream's story is about a masked killer going nuts on the teenager population of some small midwestern town. Parties are held despite the multiple murder, and, as one comes to expect in such cases, the body-count continues to rise until the main character gets her Survivor Girl on, albeit in a somewhat more interesting way than what is usual. Scream is a very postmodern horror film, in that the conventions of horror movies not only is important in the movie, but also proves for interesting plot points, as the killer seems to be operating consciously on "slasher rules."
A quick lesson in how slasher movies work from a guy I identify with.

Scream is a fairly clever movie, at least for a slasher. Much of the cleverness comes from the slightly meta aspects of it, granted, but there are some scenes that are quite goddamn clever, involving a time-delay surveillance camera camera and bloody murder.
Also, multiple levels of dramatic irony

Not that metaness is the only thing going for the movie, of course, the dialog is fairly snappy, at least for a slasher, and the movie manages to have multiple characters that are actually sympathetic, which goes a long way in raising the tension. This is something I really wish more horror movies would do. Having one, or at worst one half, sympathetic character and a bunch of assholish walking gorebags does not compelling cinema make.It sorta reflects poorly on us horror fans when the movies we watch seemingly goes to length to justify the bloody murder about to happen. Also, as I mentioned, movies become that much more exciting when they have characters that are possible to relate to in them.

These two, for example

On the topic of horror, well, it's a slasher, so the threat will always be fairly well-telegraphed, which might dimminish it a bit, but the soundtrack goes a long way to make eerieness, and the use of dramatic irony is just pure delicious at times, chiefly in the scene with the camera, as discussed above. Also, the opening scene is fairly famous, but it's well-earned, the way the movie subtly escalates the tension through editing and atmosphere without stepping up the dialog at all. Of course, once the dialog actually steps up to the plate, it gets pretty damn intense.

Scream is one of those movies I always underestimate until I rewatch it again, it's an important horror movie, being the new blood that the horror genre needed back in the 90's, snapping the genre out of the funk of Direct-To-Video and ridiculous franchise milking. Of course, the new scream sequel may constitute as genre milking, but that is merely speculation on my part, as I haven't seen it. If so, that'd be somewhat unfortunate, but if nothing else, the first movie is a solid piece of work and definitely one of those movies that bears a second watch.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas I: A Nightmare on Elm Street

So, Christmas time is fast approaching, and, yet again refusing to cover holiday-themed horror movies, I decided to show some love for yet another horror legend whose name fits nicely into my absurd alliteration addiction. I briefly considered doing A Very Carpenter Christmas 2: The Revenge of Return, but as a rule, I try to avoid, or at least snark at sequels, and that'd seem inconsistent on my part, so Wes Craven it was. Keeping with the spirit of A Very X Christmas, I will endeavor to only write about the best movies, mostly so I have an excuse to not even think about "Cursed" or "Vampire in Brooklyn" again. Also, I'll be steering clear of "Last House on The Left." But enough about what I won't do, let's get to the horrors, shall we? The first movie in this Holiday Special is A Nightmare On Elm Street, a movie that did to sleeping what Psycho did to showering and Jaws to swimming. Spoilers will follow.

Something's fishy in Springwood, a bunch of high schoolers find themselves plagued by absurd and threatening dreams featuring a maze-like boiler room and a strange burnt man with a clawed hand. Creepy enough in itself, but this being a slasher, people start dying, and it's up to Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, to figure out what the hell is going on and, possibly put some sort of stop to it before she too succumbs to the dream killer. Also, it features Johnny Depp in his first big role and probably the strangest shirt he's ever wore.
Seriously, is midriff-baring shirts for men a thing that was a thing in the 80's?

The movie's villain, Freddy Krueger, named after a bully who tormented ole' Wes back in school, is probably the most memorable part of the movie. His burnt visage and hand-claw weapon is visually very different from the typical "built like a brick shithouse and wearing a mask"-killer that we see in many other slashers. Not that this movie revels in the visual aspects of the villain much, and  I dare say that really works. Freddy is mostly in shadow, and the few times you actually get a good look at his face, it's fairly effective. Another thing the movie does well is that it does not over-explain, although if you look at the whole Nightmare-franchise as a whole, that praise quickly fades, but more on that some other time.

Freddy's backstory is also quite nebulous, we know he was suspected of killing and torturing children but got off on a technicality, we know that the parents of Elm Street burned down the factory he worked at with him still inside, and we know he now haunt the dreams of his killers' children. How we got from the penultimate step to the last one is unknown, and I honestly think it's better that way. Is he a revenant creeping his way from beyond the grave by pure vengeful anger alone? Is he magical in some way? deal with Satan? Aliens? Who knows.

The way the movie handled dreams was also quite clever, favoring a smooth transition between being awake and sleeping, reflecting how it's hard to point out the exact time you fall asleep. Of course, once things starts getting really strange, you usually manage to separate dream from reality, but up until a certain point, it could be chalked up to things just being kinda weird.  Also, there's some symbolism going on somewhere in there, it some times feel a bit half-assed, but the horror effect of it is quite nice, and for a movie like Nightmare, that's probably the most important thing.
Hell-o symbolism.. also, disturbing scenes

All in all, I consider A Nightmare On Elm Street a solid film, it's an interesting idea with a lot of things going for it, and while I personally think that the series went the way of many horror franchises and cocked up what made the original good when making sequels, and let's not start on the whole Remake thing again, that doesn't really change the fact that the first movie's pretty good.