Sadly, I fell asleep about halfway through and woke up right at the end. From what I saw, however, I can say that Ti West's feature debut displays his inventive visual style and features solid performances by a cast of mostly unknown actors. Unfortunately, it also features terrible pacing that left me mostly bored throughout and was probably responsible for me drifting off. To be fair, I'm certain I missed the best part of the movie, and I'll write a proper post on this once I've rewatched it.
Scream & Scream 2
When I finally woke up, I decided I'd just throw in something I've seen a million times so that I could feel free to fall asleep again. I hadn't seen Scream in years, and with the 4th film coming soon, I thought I should refresh my memory. I was immediately struck by two things. First, I'm freakin' old. I didn't think of Scream as being that old a movie, but it already feels dated, due in no small part to frequent pop culture references. For example, there's a reference to Ricki Lake, whose existence I had long ago wiped from my mind. Then there's the line, "You can only hear that Richard Gere gerbil story so many times before you have to believe it." I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last fifteen years I had completely divorced Richard Gere from gerbils in my mind. And when was the last time a line like, "What were you doing with a cellular phone, son?" could make any sense?
The second thing that struck me was how effective the movie still is. It's impossible not to be hooked by the opening scene with Drew Barrymore, and the whole movie perfectly balances the humor with the horror. Far from falling asleep, I fell in love with Scream all over again. I was wide awake by the time the video (and I do mean VHS tape) was over, so I immediately popped in the sequel.
I remember not liking Scream 2 nearly as much, and upon rewatching it, I don't really like it much at all. The first time around, all the meta-dialogue was fresh and innovative, but by the second film it was already tired. The major downfall of Scream 2 is that the characters aren't nearly as compelling, and you really start to see the limitations of Neve Campbell's acting ability. There are a couple of really tense and effective scenes: Sidney climbing over an unconscious Ghostface to escape the car window, for instance, and the Gale/Dewey scene in the soundbooth. But overall, it wasn't half as scary as the original and tried too hard to be clever. I actually turned this one off, went to bed, and watched the end over breakfast.
The Wicker Man (1973)
There's all kinds of coolness going on in The Wicker Man, including Christopher Lee in drag, naked girls leaping over a bonfire, and a whole town of pagans blowing the mind of an overly pious police officer. (Spoiler alert, proceed with caution) But my major problem with the movie was that as someone with a lot of respect for neo-pagan traditions, it was off-putting that this bigoted, narrow-minded cop ends up having all his worst suspicions confirmed. While it was a clever twist to have him end up as the sacrifice, it ends up merely playing into the fear of earth-based religions, which were starting to come to prominence in Britain in the 1970s. The funny thing is, if he would have just gotten it on with the Innkeeper's daughter, he wouldn't have been a virgin, and thus unfit for sacrifice. So I guess the moral of the story is: if a hot young blonde offers you her body, you say YES! (Nerd points if you read that last sentence in an Ernie Hudson voice.)
You're always rolling the dice when you pop in a selection from the After Dark Horrorfest. There are some real gems, but typically they're pretty lackluster. The Abandoned tips a little on the side of the former, but not completely. The plot involves an adopted American woman of Russian descent returning to the motherland to claim the estate of her departed birth-mother. The tension builds pretty quickly, and holds on for most of the film. There are some pretty scary moments, such as when the woman comes face-to-face with her own walking dead doppelganger. In the end, the plot becomes too complex and confusing. I'm not sure if it's actually supposed to make sense, or rather to have some sort of dream-logic to it. When the credits rolled, I was left thinking, "Well, that was pretty good," which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's better than, "Hey, I just wasted 98 minutes of my life."
Touted as the French version of The Strangers, Them is a taut film with talented and likable leads and tension that doesn't let up. But then comes the ending, which falls way flat after such an amazing build-up. The film takes its time to let you live with the main characters a bit and get a feel for their relationship and personalities. I found Olivia Bonamy's utter gorgeousness to be a bit of a distraction, but I'm not complaining. The most effective thing about Them is that you don't know how many killers are out there. Our protagonists off a bunch of them along the way, but they just keep coming. (Spoilers) That last shot when the hooded killers go straight from the murder scene to the school bus is chilling, until you start thinking about it. Honestly, if you're a teen psychotic, how easy is it to find a half dozen like-minded kids in your school district to go on murder sprees with? And when half of them are killed along the way, doesn't it affect you at all? These kids nonchalantly stroll up to the bus and go about their day. One thing's for sure though, after a long night's killing and no nutritious breakfast before school, there's no way they're staying awake in class.