Monday, October 20, 2008

Halloween: Film Round-Up 4

Friday The 13th (1980)
One could make the argument that it's with the emergence and popularity of Friday The 13th at the beginning of the 80s which gave birth to the slasher genre as we know it. While obvious predecessors like Halloween (which is violent, but also virtually bloodless) and Psycho were slasher flicks, most future such movies would be reading from the notes they took during this one. Friday The 13th is a decent if unremarkable horror film by today's standards, though there is something haunting and memorable about the way a summer camp and surrounding woods look at night. The ending is interesting because it's basically an inversion of Psycho: the killer is the mother. If memory serves, Jason--with the famous hockey mask--doesn't put in a proper appearance until the third entry, by which point the series also began to morph into a more supernatural "Jason is an unstoppable force" kind of beast.
Gothika (2003)
Watching this film, I realized that Robert Downey Jr. basically plays the same character in every film. Well, OK, they are different characters, but so much of his personality seems like it shines through--the way he delivers a line, his physical movement and mannerisms--that you begin to wonder if he's a really great actor with a distinctive style or a really bad actor who has limited range. But hey, Gothika!! This is one of those spooky murder mystery thrillers that come out every year and I mostly ignore them. However, this one has a nice supernatural touch and, as a review quote on a film's poster might say, "it leaves you guessing til the end." The various revelations and twists are fairly decent and believable, so give this one a try if you like movies that are more creepy than scary.
The Haunting (1963)
I'm finally going to watch The Exorcist soon, a horror film still considered one of the scariest ever made despite being almost three decades old, but I also wanted to get in another classic "scariest film ever" or two for these round-ups. Thus, The Haunting, which, like The Exorcist, is still scary to this day. While the characters and plot are interesting enough on their own, the real star of this film is the location and set design which create a creepy, slightly surreal atmosphere. The Haunting is a surprisingly modern minded film in which the characters debate about the nature of 'hauntings' and refuse to generally classify the phenomena taking place at the mansion as 'ghostly.' The idea is that, science or no, something is happening there and not knowing what it is makes it scarier. Whatever is causing the strange noises, cold spots, slamming doors, etc., it sure makes for a frightening watch. I'm rarely set on edge by movies, but The Haunting managed to make me tense even though you never see any ghosts and there are a few scares that relieve the tension. It mostly keeps building and building until one of the characters loses her mind and drives her car into a tree, letting the mansion claim another victim. "A house that was born bad" indeed. Fun story: while watching this movie a friend sent a message to my newly purchased cellphone, which I forgot I had on, and the sudden noised scared the hell out of me.
I Am Legend (2007)
This movie makes the unpardonable sin of removing entire plot elements from the book its adapted from. This is further infuriating because the novel already has been adapted twice and those movies managed to work in the interesting gray areas that this version entirely drops. At one point in the 2007 version, our hero (Will Smith, the 'go to black guy' for scifi films since the mid 90s) is trapped by a snare, suggesting that the infected creatures in the film are intelligent and trying to catch/kill him. But rather than follow this--or examine the insanity of the character after spending so much time alone with only his dog for companionship--it eventually boils down to a black-and-white issue of "they're infected and monsters, so let's develop a serum and/or kill them." Sadly, the first half hour/45 minutes of the movie is fascinating but once the action kicks in it loses all sense of atmosphere and finesse. You may as well know that in the original book version, the infected monsters are intelligent and adapt to the disease and want to rebuild the world, while our hero is a relic of the past and a crazy human who murders their people, thus becoming a 'legend' to them like vampires and monsters are 'legends' to us. So, yeah, the film pretty much ignores this awesome plot revelation and makes our hero the titular 'legend' because he cures the plague. Lame. Skip it.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
I may as well admit that I liked Freddy Vs. Jason, but that doesn't mean I think it was a good movie. In fact, it's too bad that both characters have been run into the ground so much with countless stupid reasons for their survival or return, because in the right hands you could make a good movie with Freddy and/or Jason. Anyway, tthe original Nightmare is a much more violent and serious film than many remember--Freddy Krueger was mostly just a monster here, without all the personality and one-liners he's known for. If Friday The 13th made slasher flicks more bloody, A Nightmare On Elm Street took it even further, with a literal geyser of blood at one point.

All that said, the idea of a killer who attacks from inside your dreams (....err, nightmares??) is endlessly brilliant because it puts no limits on what Freddy can do. See, horror villains like the ghosts from The Grudge or any that are seemingly unstoppable and/or have god-like powers aren't scary because you have no chance and can't get away. At least when Freddy has god-like powers it's because he attacks from inside dreams, where anything goes. But, whatever. Like the first Friday The 13th, the first Nightmare film is a must see for anyone who likes horror cinema, or anyone who has seen all the parodies and homages to these two series but not the films themselves.

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