Thursday, July 21, 2011

Weighing in on the Evil Dead Remake

You can hardly blame the horror community for going into a collective tizzy over the announcement of an Evil Dead remake. After all, how many times have we been burned by Platinum Dunes trouncing all over our most sacred genre films? But I, for one, am stoked about this particular remake. It is second only to Hellraiser in my list of low-budget horror flms that deserve a new treatment with modern special effects.

Consider this: how many people would argue that the Star Wars prequels wouldn't have been better off if Lucas had limited himself to a producer role, while turning the reigns over to a new generation of artists with a passion for the material? It seems that Lucas made the prequels solely to appease his fans, rather than out of any burning need to continue the story that made him legendary 20+ years prior. And do I need to mention the fourth Indiana Jones film?

It seems that Sam Raimi has taken a lesson from Lucas and Spielberg and has allowed his original vision to be reinterpreted by those eager to do it. I've seen many calls for him to make another sequel, rather than a remake, but if Raimi had another Evil Dead story to tell, he'd be doing it, right? The fact is, Raimi has new interests, and the prospect of revisiting the work from his youth simply doesn't appeal to him. I'm satisfied that he made the right call, and is allowing for a reinterpretation of his horror classic rather than trying to recapture the magic. And really, what is more disappointing, a remake that doesn't livve up to the original, or a half-hearted sequel that reveals the original creator's disinterest in the material?

I orignally saw the Evil Dead trilogy in reverse order. After a hilarious-looking preview, I made a point to catch Army of Darkness in the its original theatrical run. I didn't even know it was a sequel to anything. I adored it, and when I found out about the Evil Dead movies, I immediately sought them out. My local video store didn't have the original at the time, so I watched Evil Dead 2 next, and fell in love with its mix of goofy slapstick and horror. After a few years, I tracked down the original and was vastly disappointed. It seemed to take itself too seriously in light of the other films, and I chalked it up to a mediocre first attempt.

Years later, I've grown to appreciate the original, especially given its historical context. Few had seen that level of gore before, and while the acting was slightly cheesy, and the special effects were severely dated even a decade ago, I now appreciate the creepiness of the concept, and enjoy the film more every time I watch it. But the prospect of a remake excites me. I see in my mind's eye what the movie could be, if given the proper respect.

A lot of people are up in arms about Diablo Cody's involvement with the project. While I'm not too big on Jennifer's Body, I thought Juno was a fine film. Yes, the dialougue is a bit over-the-top, but coming out of Ellen page's mouth, it makes sense. It's a film about some very intelligent, quirky people, and I think it succeeds admirably. With Jennifer's Body, I thought the dialogue sounded overblown and unnatural, but I've never been certain whether that was a defect in the script, or if it was just beyond Megan Fox's ability to pull it off.

And no, the dialogue is not realistic, but that's kind of the point. The first movie I saw that had completely realistic dialogue was Matty Rich's Straight Outta Brooklyn, which I hated because rather than meaningful dialogue that pushes the plot forward or is entertaining in its own right, it seemed to use dialogue mainly to fill space. People in general are pretty inarticulate, so realistic dialogue must necessarily consist of way too many "ums" and fragmented sentences. One of my best Shakespeare professors used to relate the story of his decision to become a Shakespeare scholar. His father's main objection was that, "people don't talk like that anymore." His response was that people never actually talked like they do in Shakespearean plays. The dialogue is stylized and idealized, and that's the point.

And while Cody's writing style may not seem ideal for a serious remake of The Evil Dead, take comfort that she was brought in merely to "punch up" the dialogue. She didn't write the whole script, and I'm pretty confident that if she goes overboard with too-clever dialogue, it will be corrected by the producers and the director.

Bottom line: Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who made their careers on these films, will be involved, so we're in good hands. Nobody wants to see this movie fail. And for every The Haunting and Prom Night remake out there, there's also a Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Ring. While I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, if I could pre-order tickets right now, my eight bucks would be spent.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


In the immortal words of the mighty Mike Doughty:

"You snooze, you lose. Well I have snossed and lost."

Thursday night I set aside my evening to watch Cold Prey to review for Stacie Ponder's Final Girl Film Club. To my shock and dismay, it had been removed from Netflix Instant Watch. I tried my local video store, but foreign horror is always a long shot, and I came home empty-handed (aside from the 3 clearance DVDs I bought).

So, with regrets I have to announce I am unable to participate in the film club this month. And yes, it's my own fault for procrastinating, but I'd also like to lay some blame on Netflix. Aren't they checking Final Girl to make sure they're not interfering with the film club? I mean, they're just Netflix - this is Stacie flippin' Ponder we're talking about!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adrian Pasdar in a Bunny Suit: A Review of Home Movie (2008)

Doesn't the title of my post say it all, really? Do you need any more information than "This movie features Adrian Pasdar wearing a bunny suit," before deciding to watch it? But on the off chance that some of my readers have higher standards than I do, I suppose I'll continue with the full review.

Home Movie fits neatly into both the creepy children and the found footage subgenres. The film is supposed to be a family's home movies, which, like most family home videos, are taped mostly during holidays. Adrian Pasdar plays the Lutheran minister patriarch, while his child psychologist wife is played by Cady McCain, who is apparently a soap opera actress whom I've never seen before. This dichotomy comes in handy when their children start behaving strangely - she looks for clinical solutions while he begins to believe demonic forces are involved.

The kids are played by real-life brother and sister Austin and Amber Joy Williams, and let me tell you, they are some creepy bastards. Through the bulk of the film, the children never say a word, despite their parents' best efforts to involve them in family activities. Writer/director Christopher Denham goes out of his way to show you that this family should be perfect. The father is an affectionate goofball constantly mugging for the camera and cracking jokes for the benefit of his distant, scowling children. The mother is even-tempered to a fault, applying punishment when necessary, but never freaking out about the kids' bad behavior. Okay, not never. Not until things start to get really sick. And it does get pretty bad, although it isn't particularly gory, and most of the violence is suggested rather than shown.

Overall, I found the movie pretty dang good. Although it isn't big on scares, it is fascinating. I couldn't look away, even during the boring parts, because I was desperate to know what the kids had in store next. As you can expect, the children's behavior starts out slightly odd, and gets increasingly disturbing until the "Oh holy shit!" ending. Denham handles the build-up very effectively for the most part. The kids are creepy from the get-go, never speaking to their parents, but only to each other in a gibberish language only the two of them understand. Eventually the children do speak, which I consider a mistake, as it robs them of all the mystery that has been built up around them. They just seem like two little kids you could bitchslap into submission. Although having them speak does lead to one super-creepy line: "Let's have a staring contest. I bet you can't stare until our movie is finished." It's at this point you realize that nearly every sick thing they've done, they've saved until their dad had the camera turned on. Even though they haven't been filiming it themselves (at first) they've been making their movie all along.

The found footage format is essential to the story, and overall I found it to be used effectively, as it resembled a lot of the video my family used to shoot back in the day. There were moments when it felt totally unnatural for the characters to be filming themselves, which is the most common mistake in found footage movies, and one of the hardest to avoid. It is a limitation inherent to the subgenre - at some point, when things start to get really dangerous, any sane person would put down the camera and take care of business (or run screaming).

On a personal note, I found this movie very effective in portraying a family struggling to connect. Try as they might, the parents never seem to get through to the kids, and you can see it take its toll as the father begins to drink heavily and the mother struggles to believe that her own kids could be one of her most acute cases of anti-social personality disorder she has ever treated. I've got two kids on the autism spectrum, and while our family life is nothing like the one portrayed in the film, there are moments when you just can't get through to them, and it's like running into a plexiglas wall. So when I think of that feeling amplified by 100, I sort of understand how these parents would feel, and it hit me where it hurts.

Special thanks to my older sister, who I have to thank for my lifeling obsession with horror, for introducing me to this movie. She picked up a copy on a whim and watched it with my other sister, and both are desperate to talk about it with me. I eagerly await that conversation. And yes, I liked it quite a bit.

Also, Adrian Pasdar in a bunny suit.

Warning: Spoilery Discussion Below

For everyone who's already seen the film, I have some things to add. One thing I loved about this movie is how they leave it ambiguous as to whether there are supernatural forces at work, or if these kids are just extremely disturbed. There are a couple of clues to support each reading. First off, while arguing with his wife, Adrian Pasdar reveals that the kids were having problems before they moved into the new house, and that they moved specifically to a remote area because they thought it might help. While he still thinks there are demonic forces in the house, this would refute that idea. However, it is possible that the demonic forces could have followed the children to the new house and then amped up its influences.

Then, when the father performs the exorcism on the house, he opens the closet, flings holy water into it, then closes and latches it. A second later, it is open again. What explanation is there besides supernatural forces? I suppose the fact that the kids suddenly appear in the room right afterward means they could have opened it without him seeing, but it doesn't seem likely to me. Also, the Thanksgiving scene where they simultaneously start throwing silverware and plates on the floor to keep their father from finishing his prayer hints that they are offended by religion much as any hellspawn would be. But nothing is conclusive, and the open-endedness is what makes it so intriguing.

When the kids start behaving well, interacting with their parents and displaying affection, it is unclear whether it was their father's exorcism or their mother's medication that did the trick, but it turns out to be a fake-out (but you knew it would, right?) I mentioned earlier that I would have preferred that the children never spoke in the film, and I stand by that, but in terms of story, it makes sense that they would. They had to act normally to carry out their plan to murder their classmate, Christian (maybe it was the name that did it). Otherwise, they never would have been able to have a friend over. But still, they are considerably less creepy when they open their mouths.

The two scenes that really stood out were the cat crucifixion at Christmas, and of course, the final shot at the dinner table. When they pulled out the knives and forks, it was a great payoff to all the build-up. Their ultimate plan did seem a little complex for ten-year-olds to pull off, but with the help of Satan's minions, I suppose anything is possible. Hey, maybe I'll use that as my email footer:

Dear so-and-so,

Thanks so much for the free screener of your independent film. I'll certainly give it a look and write an unbiased review on my blog. If I don't like it, I'll say so, but if I do, I'll do what I can to help you promote it. And hey, any press is better than no press, right?

Marvin the Macabre

"With the help of Satan's minions, anything is possible."

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lycanthrope List - Film's Greatest Werewolves

Of all the classic monsters, I've always been particularly fond of Werewolves. While Young Marvin was still scared shitless of anything resembling supernatural, I always had an affinity for these beasts. Perhaps it was because of my love of animals, particularly dogs, but they just didn't seem as evil as vampires and ghosts.

Right now I'm 10 episodes deep into True Blood Season 3 (I don't get cable, so I've got to wait until the DVDs come out). It's a decent season, but something just doesn't sit right with me about their portrayal of my number one monsters. I think the problem is that they are just white trash dudes who turn into ordinary-looking wolves. The werewolf, as I prefer it, should be halfway between a man and a wolf. While Alan Ball and company give some reason or other for using real wolves for their werewolves, I can't help but suspect the real factor was money. It simply would have cost too much to use CGI, or better yet, some gnarly practical werewolf effects. But the fact is, they're just not very scary.

The sad truth is, True Blood's werewolves would get their asses handed to them by the Goddamned Twilight werewolves. Sure they're fluffy, but at least they're huge.

Wouldja look at that fluffy bastard?

So as a remedy for this, I've compiled this list of my top ten werewolves from all of filmdom. Keep in mind, this isn't a list of the absolute best werewolf movies, but rather the top ten werewolf designs from film.

#10 - Ginger Snaps

Just look at that bad bastard. I figure if I had a good weapon, or at least a big stick, I could fend off an ordinary wolf. But this monster? Say bye-bye to your jugular. This werewolf is not your typical lycanthrope. It is relatively hairless, and you can see its boobies hanging down. Somehow this makes it all the more terrifying.

#9 - The Wolfman
I know, blasphemy, right? Number 9? After all, Jack Pierce's werewolf design defined the beast for generations to come and is still instantly recognizable as one of Universal's most revered monsters. The reason for such a placement is that after decades of werewolves on steroids (going back to An American Werewolf in London), this fella just ain't that scary anymore. Plus, it looks like he's wearing a coonskin cap. Don't get me wrong, the original The Wolfman is one of my all-time favorite films. There's simply so much to love. If that weren't the case, this wolfman may not have made my list at all. But when you consider his predecessor:'s clear that Lon Chaney's Wolfman was a huge step forward as far as werewolf design. I'm not trying to bag of Werewolf of London or anything - it's an excellent movie as well, and probably one of the first to portray a werewolf as being a wolf/human hybrid - it's just that werewolves have come so far since then.

#8 - Cursed

I've reviewed this one before, so you'll know that I'm not in love with this movie, but it does have some great werewolf action. In this scene, soul singer Mya is trapped in an elevator with this bad boy intent on making her a tasty treat (and a tasty treat she is). This is probably the only genuinely scary scene in the movie, and probably the one that saved it for me. Well, there's also this scene:

...which cracked my shit up. Okay, so the werewolf looks ridiculous here, but that's really the point, isn't it?

#7 - Underworld Trilogy

Awww, Goddammit! Look at that thing. I don't know about you, but that thing scares the crap out of me. It's too bad that these movies aren't scary in the least. I didn't even like Underworld that much (for some reason, I liked the sequels better). But just look at it. Ewww...

I put the Underworld movies in a class with the Resident Evil movies - basically they're action movies with horror elements. But there's something about werewolves battling vampires that is irresistible to me. However, like True Blood, they tend to favor the vampires as the more intelligent, sophisticated species while the werewolves are no more than brutes. So, Underworld werewolves don't make the top five, not because of inferior design, but because of blatant species-ism.

#6 - The Monster Squad

Monster Squad took a page out of Jack Pierce's book with their elegant werewolf design. He looks like a streamlined version of Larry Talbot, with sharper features that make him wicked scary. The thing about The Monster Squad is that it mixes the ridiculous with the heart-wrenching. Just look at the relationship between Sean's parents - that fight they have just kills me. At the same time there's the classic line, "Creature stole my Twinkie." So too is it for the wolfman. Sure he is temporarily defeated with a swift kick to the nards, and his body parts fly back together after being blown apart with dynamite, but the scene where he's begging to be locked up, and when he thanks Rudy for ending his life, make you feel real compassion for this character.

Plus, nards. 

#5 - Dog Soldiers

The werewolves of Dog Soldiers are tall, mean, lean, and move with the grace of dancers. I don't know quite what it is about the creature design that gets me. Maybe it's how they're so skinny at the waist, but so powerful up top. These bad boys are freaky though. And you can empty an entire HK91 clip into them without them so much as noticing.

#4 - Van Helsing

Van Helsing has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. It's over-acted, terribly convoluted, and little more than an excuse for an epic bout of werewolf vs vampire fisticuffs. But I'm addicted to it. It helps that it is one of the few horror movies I can share with my young sons, and their enthusiasm is contagious. But regardless of the relative merits of the film, I've always dug their pumped-up, gigantic, werewolves on steroids. You'd have the be Van Helsing himself to take down one of these things.

And still they'd manage to bite you. Yep, that's the legendary Van Helsing himself transformed into a lycanthrope and fixin' to kick some Drac-ass-ula. Scream Drac-ass-ula, Scream!


#3 - An American Werewolf in London

Okay, this isn't an actual screenshot. Give me a break, I don't have it on DVD yet because who is their right mind would sell this film to a pawn shop. As far as I can tell, this is either an actual prop from the film or a replica on display as it should be - as a work of art.

Is any explanation needed  for why An American Werewolf in London is in the top 3? John Landis has never topped this perfect mix of horror and comedy. Rick Baker got famous for this formidable werewolf design, which remains one of the absolutely most terrifying werewolves in film history. I've always liked that his werewolf walked on all fours while remaining fully a supernatural creature rather than an ordinary wolf. I also love how the climactic scene in Piccadilly Circus is iconic enough to keep showing up in other films, particularly in the 2010 version of the Wolfman. Landis also references it in his "Deer Woman" episode of Masters of Horror.

#2 - The Howling 

For my money, the Howling is the most terrifying werewolf movie ever, with some of the all-time best werewolves. They have always reminded me of the Big Bad Wolf, with their tall, pointed ears. These bastards tower above their victims, and Joe Dante films them with a master's sense of space, making you aware of their power and menace like no other. And yes, Dave Allen's stop-motion homage to Ray Harryhausen leaves something to be desired, but by and large, the visual effects are top-notch (for its time). All I know is that when I have nightmares of werewolves, this is what they look like. Well, except for the Dee Wallace Pomeranian werewolf at the end. But Hell, she was supposed to be sympathetic rather than menacing.

#1 - The Wolfman (2010)

What do you mean WTF? Yeah the Anthony Hopkins werewolf is number one. Just look at him. He's both a scary-ass werewolf and Hannibal Lecter rolled into one. What I love is how this design pays homage to Jack Pierce's Wolfman, improves upon it, and is still recognizable as Anthony Hopkins. People accuse Sir Hopkins of phoning in his performance, but they're obviously brain-damaged. I've never seen him have so much damned fun with a role.

Whatever the film's shortcomings (and admittedly, there are many), it gave me everything I wanted to see. Spooky atmosphere, menacing monsters, and an epic showdown between Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. Add to that the stunning Emily Blunt and the always riveting Hugo Weaving, and what's not to love. I will say that if you caught this in the theater, you need to see the director's cut, if only for the scene where Anthony Hopkins eats an apple. Seriously. He eats an apple and stares at Emily Blunt without ever responding to her questions, and its the best scene of the film. You'll also see Max von Sydow pass the torch, er, wolf's head cane, to the new generation. The one drawback of the director's cut is that you have to suffer through del Toro's portrayal of Hamlet. I love Benicio, but somehow he can't pull off playing an actor. Embarrassing.

But he makes an excellent werewolf, and he earned my respect by making this movie happen through the sheer force of his love for the original. How can you hate on a Universal Monsters fan?

Also, did I mention the gore? I wasn't expecting this movie to be in the least bit gory, but when the werewolf starts tearing shit up at the gypsy camp, the blood flows freely. Your great-grandfather's wolfman this is not.

Honorable Mentions: The Company of Wolves

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that the werewolf design in this movie isn't fantastic. But this image, the wolf snout emerging from a human mouth, has haunted me since I saw the VHS cover when I was a kid. The cover stared at my from the shelf of my local grocery store's video shelf, and I couldn't pass it without staring for a good two minutes. It was years before I'd work up the courage to actually watch this film, and I'd say its probably my favorite werewolf film ever. Then, there's also this guy:

Notice how the eyebrows meet in the middle? A dead giveaway of lycanthropy. This dude is far creepier in his human form, and I love how the teenage girl never lets him get the upper hand, but rather becomes his consort. All-in-all, a beautiful film despite some very dated special effects.


Oh shit, did I just dis Jack? While I've always dug his werewolf movie, it's just a tad understated for my taste. It's good - I like it, and it would definitely make my top twelve, but I'm just not blown away by its werewolf design. Hate me if you will.

Teen Wolf

This movie gets a pass purely for nostalgia's sake. And Michael J. Fox has always been one of my favorites. I was raised on this shit, and I'm not turning my back on it now. But seriously, did a werewolf ever look more like a little hairy old man? Even as a kid I thought this werewolf looked dumb. But nilla could play some basketball. Now, don't even get me started on Teen Wolf Too. Jason Bateman's cool, but it was exactly the same movie with boxing rather than basketball. As much as I loved the original as a kid, I think I only sat through the sequel once. And I won't be revisiting that one.

So there you have it. My overblown self-important declaration of the greatest movie werewolves. What did I miss? Any Paul Naschy fans care to lambaste me? Oliver Reid? I still haven't seen Curse of the Werewolf. Anyway, I leave it to you, readers, to tell me how I did. Who's your favorite lycanthrope?