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March 11, 2009

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bill

I have a hard time getting too worked up about some of these remakes. No, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" should never have been touched, nor "Black Christmas", nor "Halloween" (and, really, Rob Zombie should be fired from movies), but, the thing is, the original "Last House on the Left" isn't any damn good anyway. Neither is "Nightmare on Elm Street", a remake of which is on the horizon. Or "Friday the 13th". Or on and on. Junk remade as more junk is a bad pattern, obviously, but I've been a generally unhappy horror fan for a very long time anyway, so I'm used to it.

Tony Dayoub

Sorry to hear that about Dillahunt. He's always seemed to be able to imply a certain menace (especially as two very different recurring heavies on DEADWOOD).

Potter? Pretty, yes. But I never saw anything to distinguish her from any other rising ingenue.

MovieMan0283

I haven't seen Left House, but isn't it basically a horror remake of The Virgin Spring? So what we're getting here is the Some Dude reworking Wes Craven reworking Ingmar Bergman?

Ah, Monica Potter. Seems like only yesterday People Magazine was calling her "the poor man's Julia Roberts" for her work in Patch Adams. By the way, who did she play in The Virgin Spring? I think she was one of the rapists.

(Side note - isn't 37 a bit young to be playing these characters' mother?)

bill

MovieMan, yes, that's basically what "Last House..." is, although the word "basically" should really be stressed pretty strongly.

Glenn, I read your review of the remake, and I have to ask: Why does Craven's film get the qualifying phrase "seeming artlessness" attached to it? Why not just plain old "artlessness"? Because that's more accurate. Craven's no good, I say.

S.F. Hunger

Tony Dayoub beat me to my defense of Garrett Dillahunt. He is indeed amazing on DEADWOOD. I'll never forget his ragged creepiness as Jack McCall ("That's one in a row for you, Bill") or his more refined creepiness as that other character. Never forget that show.

Glenn Kenny

@bill: I'm a little higher on the original than you are, although the remake is reason enough to wish the original had never been made. The late, great Tom Allen, a big genre fan, was on the same page as you, referring to the director as "the aptly-named Craven."

S.F. Hunger

Any fans of Craven's "Red Eye" (2005) hanging out here? It's such a wonderfully lean, tight, nastly little suspense-driven genre thriller that I can't help loving it. Only worthwhile thing Craven's done since the original Nightmare On Elm St.

Glenn Kenny

I do like "Red Eye" pretty well, at least up until the standard-issue "thing that wouldn't die" finale.

And I'm sorry to disappoint the Dillahunt fans out there. But it's true—those qualities evident in his "Deadwood" work are not, alas, broughten to his performance in "Last House."

bill

I did think "Red Eye" was pretty decent, SF, but I can't share your approval of "Elm Street", which I think is awfully weak tea.

Owain Wilson

Spencer Treat Clarke, eh? I always wondered what happened to those sensitive little acting lads from the late 90's, early 2000's. That kid from Jurassic Park III and The Patriot is another one. He also played the boy who boasts about his agent in The Sixth Sense.

And what of Mr. Osment?

Andrew Wyatt

Sorry, I gotta disagree with the Craven on-piling. The original "Last House on the Left" is the closest thing to an arty exploitation film that I've ever seen, which makes it fairly awesome in my estimation. YMMV. Yes, it's trashy and grueling and the comedic bits with the bumbling cops don't really work. Yet I find it's gutter-wallowing almost hypnotic. Its jarring commentary on America's fundamental bloodthirsty character makes me squirm, and that to makes it a successful horror film.

And: Not only is "Nightmare on Elm Street" is one of the best horror films of the 1980s, but Craven closed out the series with "New Nightmare," one of the nimblest meta-films ever made in any genre.

He gets bonus points for "The Hills Have Eyes," the underrated creepfest "The Serpent and the Rainbow," and his unjustifiably loathed camp detour, "The People Under the Stairs". On the other hand, I can take or leave the "Scream" series.

Andrew Wyatt

And, incidentally, Dillahunt receives endless forgiveness for everything by virtue of appearing in memorable roles in two of the masterpieces of 2007: "No Country of Old Men" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

bill

I couldn't even get through "New Nightmare". I didn't think it was clever, and the acting was, in my opinion, excruciating. Sorry. And I also don't think "one of the best horror films of the 80s" is particularly high praise, since I think that was a very black decade for the genre. Horror hasn't really recovered from it, and has probably gotten worse due to the ball that got rolling then. AND the bad horror films from that decade have infected horror literature, as most of the writers now are not inspired by the great writers of the past, but rather the shitty movies they watched growing up. The Thomas Ligottis of the world are losing the war to the Brian Keenes.

Dan Coyle

Don't forget the terrific TV work Dillahunt's done on Terminator, Deadwood, and John From Cincinnati.

Monica Potter is 37; Sarah Paxton turns 21 this year. I mean, OUCH for Monica Potter!

Tom Russell

Oh, be nice to the 80's, Bill! It was the 80's that gave us Friday the 13th Part VII. C'mon, it's Jason versus Carrie!

The 80's were certainly better than the aughties. I'll take dead horny teenagers over sadistically tortured teenagers any day.

... By-the-by, didn't someone more-or-less unofficially remake "Last House" a couple of years back? I heard that one was particularly awful (I seem to recall Ebert getting into a very public back-and-forth with the director), and I wonder how the official remake stacks up against that one?

Andrew Wyatt

@ bill: "And I also don't think "one of the best horror films of the 80s" is particularly high praise, since I think that was a very black decade for the genre."

I'd like to just let this lie under the "Agree to Disagree" section, but I think a statement this sweeping and damning needs a little more justification, particularly given that the 1980s gave us some of the high-water marks of the genre: The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, The Fly, The Evil Dead I/II, The Thing. And that's just the outright masterpieces I can think of. I would offer up a whole host of also-rans: The Re-Animator, The Dead Zone, Videodrome, Scanners (it was Cronenberg's decade, really), Near Dark, Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Hitcher, Pet Semetary, The Howling, Cujo, Altered States, Friday the 13th, Christine, Child's Play, The Company of Wolves, Prince of Darkness, the aforementioned Serpent and the Rainbow, Cannibal Holocaust, The Vanishing, Henry Portrait of Serial Killer (unless you want to quibble over the year of release...)

The Chevalier

"Piss yer pants."

bill

Andrew - You do make a reasonably strong case. I would argue that "Near Dark", "The Hitcher", "The Howling", "Cujo", "Friday the 13th", "Child's Play", "Re-Animator" and "Christine" aren't any good -- and in fact I do argue that -- but you have me on Cronenberg, "The Shining", "The Changeling", and a few others (I don't like "Company of Wolves", but I have to give it points for trying). But the 80s brought us the modern slasher film, which is artless and boring and cheap, and that's what most people remember it for. No one seems to have been influenced by Cronenberg or "The Shining", or even, really, Carpenter. Most of the influence that has trickled down from that decade has come from Sean Cunningham and Wes Craven, and that bums me out. Ambition, inventiveness and craft in horror is dying.

Andrew Wyatt

@ bill

Hmmm. I think most viewers would contend that the slasher sub-genre began with the Black Christmas / Halloween / The Texas Chainsaw Massacre trifecta. And while the vast majority of slasher films *are* artless and boring and cheap, I would say that Halloween, Chainsaw, and Nightmare are neither artless, boring, nor cheap. I suspect that we could argue in circles re: Nightmare's merits.

This is a pet peeve: The "artless-boring-cheap" descriptor (or some variant) is slapped of the slasher subgenre with a kind of huffy dismissal. Not that the descriptor isn't deserved in most cases. The problem is that the essential nut of the subgenre (killer kills teens) is regarded as prurient and exploitative by much of the film-going public and critical community, and therefore it's risk-free way to deride the shallowness and ugliness of such films. Occasionally, a meritorious film gets caught in the net, but it's not so much the dismissal that bothers me as the failure to be consistent in the dismissal. How many bedroom dramas or Holocaust dramas or crime dramas released in a year are as equally "artless-boring-cheap"? Absent any other information, it seems that a slasher film is assumed to be "baseline bad" and a crime drama (for example) is assumed to be "baseline good". Purely based on genre! I think we can afford to be unforgiving when it comes to slasher films, but, gads, I wish we would be as equally unforgiving when it comes to everything else. Otherwise we're going to continue to see pap like Frost/Nixon and The Reader clinching critical acclaim and awards. Okay, end rant. :)

bill

@Andrew - Okay, well, that's all true enough, and fair enough, to boot. And I particularly agree with this:

"I think most viewers would contend that the slasher sub-genre began with the Black Christmas / Halloween / The Texas Chainsaw Massacre trifecta. And while the vast majority of slasher films *are* artless and boring and cheap, I would say that Halloween, Chainsaw, and Nightmare are neither artless, boring, nor cheap."

All I would say is that in the case of all three of those films, there is much more to them than "killer kills kids". I don't even mean in the allegorical sense that so many critics and fans latch onto in order to justify their love of these movies. I mean that they're WELL-MADE (sorry, I don't know how to do italics) and in some cases even WELL-ACTED, and they show and understanding of how to build dread, and how to horrify people, as opposed to shocking them and making them feel sick.

Look, I'm a horror fan, and have been for a very long time, and I feel that I have a pretty good handle on it. I don't think it's a "low" genre or unworthy of attention. I love it! I want it to be better! The thing about "The Shining" is that so many horror filmmakers hold it up as this gold standard, as well they should, but nobody wants to try to get there themselves. They think they're halfway to making a good movie if they can get Greg Nicotero on board. Nobody cares about the writing anymore, or the image, or, maybe most importantly, the strangeness and sense of horrified awe that can be achieved in the genre. One film I liked in recent years (with a fair number of reservations, but still) is "The Mist": look at that shot, towards the end, of that creature walking across the road. Too few filmmakers today, I believe, would consider that a true horror film shot because the creature doesn't pause to rip anyone in half. But I think that moment is brilliant, and all too rare.

bill

I should add, since I haven't always been expressing myself well, that when I said that the 80s gave us the modern slasher film, I meant that it was in the 80s that the focus began to be on "creative kills" and general gore, with nothing else in terms of story, style or craft to hold it together.

Andrew Wyatt

@ bill

I'm ambivalent about The Mist overall, but the final sequence, where the fleeing survivors glimpse larger and larger monsters through the haze, is pretty extraordinary. And endings don't come much bleaker.

The two recent champions of the genre that stand out in my mind are "The Descent" and "Let the Right One In". (The latter lands on DVD this week, as it happens.) Both of these, I would argue, are standouts that strive to achieve something thoroughly original and terrifying. Check them out if you haven't caught them yet.

Tom Russell

Let me say first of all that I see all of Bill's points. While I don't share his disdain for the slasher genre-- "creative kills" can and generally are executed with at least a modicum of style and wit-- I too miss the strangeness and awe.

But, to be somewhat controversial here? The current spat of horror films-- which I think are really the bottom of the barrell-- that focus not on creative kills but on extended gruesomeness, cynicism, and torture-- I don't think you can really trace those back to the eighties. The eighties were about suspense-and-release (Halloween) or shock-and-release (Friday). I'm not sure if I'm expressing that point well enough, so let me put it this way: there is a huge world of difference between a Jason movie, which has its share of gore and cheap shocks and, yes, artlessness, and something like a Guinea Pig film, which revels in that gore for its own depraved sake. The former can entertain me while the latter does nothing but repulse me.

And a lot of current horror films-- your Saws and your Hostels-- they're not about "creative kills" the way slasher films are (i.e. virtuoistic bits of visual style, witty invention, and editing) but about crude torture. And I think you can't trace those to the slasher film but rather to the exploitation horror films of the seventies-- to films like the original "Last House on the Left"-- films that are generally more artless and craftless than a slasher film (and I don't mean that necessarily as a detriment but rather as a mode of description). Those films, like today's horror films, are about and abound with cruelty and nastiness.

Tom Russell

... and (he meant to add) as a result they have far less strangeness and awe.

Tom Russell

Sorry about the multiple comments here, but I had one more thing I want to add: the scariest recent horror film I've seen, the one that filled me the most with that unnameable terror, that magnificent sense of awe and dread, of strangeness, of abject pity for the victims-- Jesus Camp.

And I mean that with complete and total seriousness. It really is a truly and deeply frightening piece of work-- a better horror film, I think, than it is a documentary-- with not a hint of gore on display.

bill

Okay...how do I say this without sounding like I'm contradicting myself?

Cruelty and nastiness are entirely valid avenues for a horror film to explore, "Henry" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" being the prime examples of good films that do this that spring to mind. So that's not what really bothers me about modern horror film, or not entirely. I would, in fact, defend "Wolf Creek" as being at least a decent film. It's nasty and cruel, because how else could it be?

While you're correct, Tom, in saying that "creative kills" were to some degree about witty invention, they were also, at heart and more than anything else, about seeing people die violently, and then laughing about it (the laughing thing isn't across the board, but it became a big part of it). That has increasingly become the selling point for horror over the last twenty-five-or-so years. That's what most people want, and I think it's hopelessly empty.

Also, while I'm not about to defend "Hostel" or "Saw" (especially not "Saw"; at least "Hostel" had a little something to it), I will say that I don't see the downside in the basic idea in presenting gory violence without wit. Why is it less offensive to present violence as something that's not meant to be laughed at, or amused by?

Anyway. Gore has its place, or at least violence does, in horror, and I've never claimed otherwise. I just wish it wasn't the POINT of horror.

And Andrew, I've seen "The Descent", which I liked very much. I hope to catch "Let the Right One In" very soon.

Andrew Wyatt

@ Tom

Trenchant analysis. I think you're correct that a line can be drawn from the exploitation films of the 1970s to the "torture-porn" of the twenty-first century, at least in terms of the sort of thrills that each traffic in. Risible films like "Wolf Creek" at least seem to be playing around in the same muckhole as "Last House on the Left" and "Cannibal Holocaust," albeit--in my opinion--with very different aims and to very different effect. I suspect that the creators of "Saw" and "Hostel" also believe that they need to be graphic and "provocative" in a post-"Silence of the Lambs" and post-"Se7en" world. Never mind that those phenomenal films are only incidentally about serial killers. No, horror films now need to show something "worse" than Hannibal Lecter or John Doe, which means that such films nothing to do with art--or even with horror's ostensible purpose of cathartic fright--and everything to do with consumption.

Tom Russell

@ Bill: I see your points and agree. As Glenn said elsewhere, when you're right, you're right.

One thing I do have an extremely strong dislike for in slasher films is that camp factor-- the laughing, the devaluation of human life, which I agree is empty and which I think became more prevalent as a result of the meta-slasher craze instigated by Craven/Williamson's Scream series. Better slasher films humanize their characters, through strong writing or performances (think Crispin Glover in Friday 4, or Katharine Isabelle in Freddy v. Jason*). But these are increasingly the exception and not the rule.

(*-- Just got an image of Monsieurs Kruger and Vorhees as litigants in a court-room, both nattily-dressed in black suits and ties.)

bill

Goddamnit..."MORE offensive", not "less offensive". I was seconds away from going home, so I hope that absolves me.

Dan

There's only one reason I'd see a remake of this remake: bring back Max Von Sydow, and give him a big damn sword.

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