Day 13: Favorite Horror Comedy
Peter Jackson’s epic gorefest, Dead Alive (aka Braindead) has the special distinction of being the only movie I’ve ever watched twice in a row. Back when I was first exposed to Dead Alive, I made it my personal mission to show it to everyone I possibly could. On one occasion, I had brought my unrated copy (it is essential not to watch the R-rated version by mistake) to a friend’s house, one who happened to be a hardcore Christian. Needless to say, it blew his effing mind. When the movie had around 5 minutes to go, another of our mutual friends showed up and wanted to know what in Hell we were watching. I convinced my Christian friend to sit through the whole bloody mess all over again. Good times.
I also screened scenes from Dead Alive in a college literature course entitled “Comic and Tragic Visions.” I paired the “I kick ass for the Lord” scene with the murder scene from Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures to illustrate how a shift in tone makes all the difference between comedy and tragedy. The splatterfest of Dead Alive is more violent by a power of ten, but it doesn’t seem that way because it is played for laughs. Meanwhile, the single murder in Heavenly Creatures manages to be deeply disturbing, even though little of the violence is actually shown.
Also, raise your hand if you spotted the Sumatran Rat Monkey crate in the cargo hold of the ship in King Kong.
Day 14: Favorite Zombie Movie
I could easily have swapped my #13 and #14 picks, but Shaun of the Dead seemed more of a traditional zombie movie, so it gets this spot. While there are plenty of excellent walking dead films out there, and I had to think long and hard about placing Shaun above Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, there’s simply no other zombie movie that I could watch any time, no matter what mood I’m in.
Another reason Shaun gets the zombie, rather than horror comedy, distinction is that it pulls off that rarest of feats: it manages to be funny and scary in equal measure. Even more amazing than that, it gives you a good dose of the tragic and romantic as well. The scene where Bill Nighy bites it is heart-wrenching, even though he has been depicted as an overbearing jerk until that moment. And you can’t help but root for Shaun to save his relationship through heroism in the face of zombie holocaust. In short, Shaun of the Dead has everything you could possibly want from a film.
Day 15: Favorite horror film involving serial killers
Now, if you restrict this category to movies about actual serial killers, I’d have to go with none of the above. I don’t watch those films, fascinated as I might be by the subject matter. The problem I have with serial killer biopics is that they cash in on genuine tragedy and exploit real human deaths at the expense of the loved ones of the victims. Imagine being the parent of someone murdered by the BTK killer, then going to the video store and having to stomach the presence of a cheap flick profiting from the worst thing that has ever happened to your family.
Luckily, there are plenty of fictional serial killers to choose from, and my favorite among them is the debonair yet unhinged yuppie scumbag Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. In adapting Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, director Mary Herron wastes no opportunity to viciously skewer the empty-suit Wall Street parasites that populate this 1980’s period piece. Bateman is all surface with no depth, constantly reiterating that he is empty inside and while he looks the part of a human being, he has no human emotions. The film goes to great lengths to illustrate that he could be speaking for any one of his equally soulless colleagues and be right on the money. The difference: he’s a serial killing sociopath just clinging to the last vestiges of normalcy. (Spoiler alert) Or is he? Herron ends the film with a perfect sense of ambiguousness over whether Bateman’s killing sprees have actually occurred, or if he’s just lost his ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.
If you like your horror with a dose of social commentary, American Psycho is the way to go. And while you can argue that the yuppie-bashing gets a little heavy-handed at times, to me it never gets old.
Day 16: Favorite Childhood-Themed Horror Movie
Poltergeist. No contest.
When you watch Poltergeist as a kid, it goes straight for all the classic childhood fears: evil clowns, things under the bed, scary trees, ghosts, being abducted, and the presence of demonic forces. It’s like Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg set out to traumatize an entire generation. The beauty of this film is that when you revisit it as a parent, it is ten times worse. There’s an instinctual thing that kicks in when you have kids, and your greatest fears suddenly shift off of yourself and onto your offspring. You no longer fear being abducted; you fear your kids will be. And when Zelda Rubenstein tells you the abductor is “The Beast,” the chills are convulsive. JoBeth Williams gives the outstanding performance of the film, and I can no longer watch her most emotional scenes without tearing up myself.
On the downside, some of the special effects are incredibly dated. I’m sure members of the younger generation encountering Poltergeist for the first time will find much of it laughable (the tree eating the kid, the researcher tearing swathes of bloody latex off his fakey-looking skull, etc.). Fortunately, the most chilling sequences don’t rely heavily on special effects (the stacked chairs, Zelda Rubenstein’s speech, skeletons in the unfinished pool). It seems like a film about due for a remake, but I hope they think twice. We don’t want any more dead children on our hands.
Day 17: Favorite Horror Film Remake
It seems like everybody’s main complaint about modern American horror is the dominance of remakes. And I’ll admit, it is getting annoying. But in general, I’m pretty open to remakes and don’t mind if they stray significantly from the source material. For instance, I found a lot to like about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. It strayed so far from the original, I think it could have held up as its own film with no ties to the original franchise. All they would have had to do was put Leatherface in a Luchador mask or something, and voila, you’ve got a new horror franchise. That said, the movie is pretty uneven, and for every scene that works, there’s another that falls completely flat.
The TCM remake I’d classify as a reboot, because the filmmakers set out to create a new vision of familiar material. There’s another form of remake that generally pisses me off to no end. That is the American remake of a foreign film. But I kind of understand the phenomenon—Americans as a rule simply don’t watch foreign language films (and thus deserve what they get when the remake falls laughably short of the original). Oddly enough, my favorite remake falls into this bastard category. Matt Reeves’s Let Me In preserves everything that was good about the original Let the Right One In, and somehow manages to improve it.
I do admit I like the way the swimming pool scene was done better in the original, but the addition of the car crash scene more than makes up for it. Since I’ve already written about this film on my other blog Films My Spouse Made Me Watch, I’ll direct you there for additional thoughts on the film.
Day 18: Favorite Foreign Horror Film
This is a tough one, because most of my favorites from the last decade have been foreign (specifically European). But one film does seem to stand above the rest as an example of next-level, game changing horror. For me, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs lived up to and surpassed all the praise that horror bloggers have piled on it. I tried not to read too much about it in advance, because well, that’s the advice I was given. So forgive me if I write mainly in generalities—I simply love Martyrs too much to ruin it for anyone.
The little I read about Martyrs had me expecting a film that was terribly disturbing, but not scary. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The movie starts out pants-wetting terrifying, but becomes something altogether different in its second half. It is a film that brings a strange kind of beauty to its brutality. Martyrs ends up being one of the most thought-provoking films I’ve seen in any genre, and perhaps someday I’ll try to do it justice with a proper discussion. But for now, I’m content to just caress the DVD case and stare at it in awe.
Are we there yet? Not quite. But my hands are cramping up. I’ll be back for a triple entry tomorrow, then see if I can’t keep up for the rest of the challenge.