Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: From the Depths of Development Hell Edition!


By David Hughes

Softcover; 272 pages; no pictures; editions: 2003, 2011, (2012-updated and expanded edition)

"Truly a "big budget" book at a low budget price, David Hughes gives movie lovers a lot of bang for their buck as they traverse the many stages of DEVELOPMENT HELL."

For decades, Hollywood has had numerous stories of troubled productions that either never got made, took several years to get rolling, or transmogrified into something else entirely by the time it made it to the screen. David Hughes, the author of The Greatest Sci Fi Movies Never Made, has updated his previous edition of Development Hell by nearly 20 pages. Those fascinated by the calamitous debacles of studio suits, clashes with additional writers and the arrogance of major star power causing projects to crash and burn will have difficulty putting this book down.

Within these pages you'll learn the fates of such opulent, sprawling epics-that-never-were such as SMOKE & MIRRORS and Schwarzenegger's CRUSADE. The problematic monster movie, ISOBAR, dubbed 'ALIEN On A Train' from Ridley Scott and Sylvester Stallone that ultimately derailed as well as the difficulties bringing TOMB RAIDER and BATMAN BEGINS to the screen are documented here. There are numerous other in depth chapters on various pictures that either never made it, or ended up quite different from what they were initially intended. The author's revelatory information comes straight from the mouths of those involved as well as those whose original works were mutilated to the point of unrecognizability. Every bit of finger pointing, blame placing and sour grapes are quoted giving dirt mongers the inside dish on Hollywood's mistakes, both produced and un-produced.

To read about the fate of unmade movies like Oliver Stone's version of PLANET OF THE APES and James Cameron's remake of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, you'll have to buy the book. The compact dimensions are perfect for carrying in a small bag for reading on the bus, or subway for those who enjoy reading on the go. Truly a "big budget" book at a low budget price, David Hughes gives movie lovers a lot of bang for their buck as they traverse the many stages of DEVELOPMENT HELL.

The book, out next week on February 28th, can be pre-ordered at amazon by clicking the link below...


For more information about Titan Books and ordering from them, click the link below...


Monday, February 20, 2012

Heroes of Horror: New Blood & Old Hats Part 3


While the French fear filmmakers who migrated to North American shores have been confined, or sentenced to remake purgatory--denied of their dark originality that brought them here in the first place--others have shown a good deal of promise. James Wan is a Malaysian born filmmaker who exploded onto the horror scene with the intriguing SAW (2004), the first in the massively popular franchise. Horror series' have become a popular trend that has intermittently emerged and hibernated since the 1930s. From the Dracula's to the Frankenstein's to the Mummy's and even the Abbott's and Costello's meetings with whomever, all the way through the slasher icons of the 80s; the Jason's and Freddy's and Michael's of the world.

James Wan brutally gave the slasher sub genre a lethal injection of creativity in its birthing of Jigsaw, a most unusual villain. Clearly influenced by the Giallo pictures of Italy (especially the works of Dario Argento), Wan's film packed quite a lot of suspense and unrelenting terror in its shoestring budget of just over a meager million dollars. The ending was a big surprise, but was eclipsed by the even bigger surprise felt by everyone involved when this little movie sprung a lucrative trap that snagged over a hundred million from patrons. With Wan serving as a producer for the remaining six entries, the films eventually deteriorated into what amounted to gorier big screen versions of CSI with some dark soap opera theatrics.

Being born in Malaysia, a country steeped in supernatural lore of ghosts and black magic, Wan's subsequent movies have delved deeply into supernatural subjects. Displaying an assured hand when it comes to spooktacular thrills, he moved on to the ambitious and much bigger budgeted DEAD SILENCE (2006), a creepy little movie that had a great deal of potential, but failed to realize much of it. Wan's next film, DEATH SENTENCE (2007), likewise bombed badly. That film was essentially a remake of DEATH WISH (1974), loosely based on the novel of the same name that was the inspiration for the classic Bronson picture. For whatever reason, Wan was unable to retain that box office glory when he had a great deal of money at his disposal. Things would change with his next film, though. His best so far is INSIDIOUS (2010), another monumental success with a budget as small as that of SAW and a box office return that almost equaled the new millenniums slasher champion. Despite dealing with familiar topics of late involving demonic forces, the plot was original in that it dealt with the haunted potentiality of astral projection.

Mimicking recent creep-tastic hits such as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007), INSIDIOUS was able to capitalize on primal fears without the use of gimmicks such as the 'shaky cam' and succeeds in taking your breath away in more ways than one. Keep repeating it's only a movie. Hopefully, Wan will be able to maintain his momentum as he is one of the few true horror heroes in today's industry who has had a good degree of success without falling into the remake, or sequel pit. He is currently one of the relatively few true hopes for modern horror these days, and one of the few who doesn't need to resort to extreme gore to grab his audience by the throat.


Branching away from Wan and in relation to the SAW series, Darren Lynn Bousman has shown himself to be a successful director of horror. However, he has thus far been mostly relegated to helming sequels, or remakes of exploitation favorites. His bizarre REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008) has become something of the new ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (albeit on a smaller scale) with its built in cult and fans enacting the roles on screen at theater showings. The commerciality of the SAW series has served him better, although this could just as well hinder a career as help it. SAW 2 and 3 are actually worthy sequels that refuse to tamper with the formula, but find ways to keep the familiar territory fresh. The directing style here follows Wan's closely at least until SAW IV (2007). At this point, the series took a nosedive into CSI territory with a beyond convoluted amount of character filler that even Jigsaw wouldn't be able to decipher for one of his complex traps of death. Bousman next tackled a remake for a controversial 80s backwoods horror favorite.

The original MOTHER'S DAY (1980) from director Charles Kaufman was yet another in a long line of rape-torture and revenge movies that were very popular with trash fans throughout the 1970s and early 80s. But it had something the other didn't. It was a blackly comical take on consumerism and America's obsession with products and popular culture masked behind scenes of extreme violence and rape. It's a bizarre combination, but if Romero can mix sadism and subtext, why not somebody else? Lacking the black comedy of the original, the new version possesses a strong pedigree behind the scenes and a standout performance from Rebecca De Mornay. Outside of that, it's nearly indistinguishable from any number of other HOSTEL style torture pictures and 'Home Invasion' movies that have been cropping up with rapidity. Bousman has seemingly followed in Wan's footsteps by switching over to supernatural pictures with 11-11-11 (2011) and the upcoming THE BARRENS (2012). He's so far had some great success in sequels, it remains to be seen if he can separate himself from follow ups and remakes to stand out.


All of horror's big guns have been the subject of remakes. All of horror's big guns are still in the game, yet they're all seemingly running out of bullets. Like an old car, it's eventually going to start giving you problems and it's not going to run as good as it did when it was new and shiny. Wes Craven made a controversial splash in the 1970s delivering a double knock out with THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). Both films have different settings, but both share story similarities in that they deal with civilized people reduced to savagery to survive. The 70s being a time of great creativity, anger and experimentation (as well as many of these filmmakers stating they didn't know what they were doing), some of these pictures are extremely rough around the edges. This tinge of amateurishness is perceived as either sloppy, or adding to the geek show ambiance. Craven's LAST HOUSE has this vibe to it, and its savage violence will always be the source of its remembrance as opposed to any technical polish it may, or may not have. In the 80s, Craven had the underrated DEADLY BLESSING (1981) and SWAMP THING (1982) that kept him in reasonably good stead with horror fans, but it was his NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) that . The concept of a maniac slaughtering his victims in their dreams was a novel and frightening one (it was also the source of the 1984 movie, DREAMSCAPE that was released earlier that year).

Lost scene--of numerous others--that no longer exist, or have yet to be found, from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

Unfortunately, Craven fell off the wagon with such clumsy and ill mannered flatulence like the useless sequel, THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (1985) and the bewildering DEADLY FRIEND in 1986. Following a similar trajectory akin to Tobe Hooper, more crapola followed bearing titles like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) and VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN (1995). Having seemingly lost his touch, with an occasional flash of ingenuity, the director began producing other peoples movies around this time till he essentially reinvented both himself and the slasher sub genre with the hip, self referential, and mocking movie SCREAM in 1996. For today's audiences, the SCREAM series will be Craven's legacy. His movies have been forgettable affairs for the most part and this includes those where he was the producer such as THE BREED (2006), a ridiculous unacknowledged remake of the superior THE PACK from 1977. Craven also took a producer credit on the remake of his own HILLS HAVE EYES and also on the inferior 2007 sequel to the remake of the original (confusing, aint it?). After a failed attempt at cloning his own ELM STREET series (not to mention that ELM STREET was getting its own remake as well) with MY SOUL TO TAKE in 2010, Craven retreated to the safety of the SCREAM series with the fourth chapter; and that, too, failed to recapture the former glory of the once popular pop culture slasher series. Whether he continues his directorial career, Craven's place in horror history is assured. He has had one of the longest careers in horror, despite noticeably fluctuating quality for much of his terror tenure. For me, his best years are from 1972 to 1984.


Having previously discussed the lightning storm of amazing European talent bringing nightmares to vivid life on screen, there are also some Euro talents that have incurred the wrath of horror's fan base on a regular basis. One of those two is Marcus Nispel, a filmmaker who has had an undeniably successful career in commercials and music videos. His horror debut was the 2003 Michael Bay produced remake of Hooper's seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). While it jettisoned the 'Family as Cannibals' plot device, Nispel fashioned a gritty, grubby and grimy little movie that was aided by procuring the services of the original films DP, Daniel Pearl. If the film is guilty of any crime, its being the bacteria that has begat the plague of remakes that hovers over horror and continues to spread like the bite from a reanimated corpse. Nispel's movie was followed by an even nastier sequel from director Jonathan Liebesman entitled THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING (2006).

On a side note, Liebesman had made a strong debut in 2003 with the occasionally scary, but overly silly, DARKNESS FALLS. That films box office success got him the Leatherface gig. As fate would have it, Liebesman was originally attached to the then upcoming Michael Bay produced FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. However, he was subsequently replaced by Marcus Nispel! Liebesman has since went on to directing big and loud mega budget studio pictures like BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011) and the soon to be released WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012).

Meanwhile, Nispel essentially turned his version of FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) into a loose CHAINSAW follow up that never quite feels like a FRIDAY film. Overlong and pacing issues aside, the opening grabs your attention, but fails to keep it for the remainder of the film, despite some fine cinematography again by Daniel Pearl. This franchise made its name on its death scenes and this reboot-reimagining-remake (whatever they're calling them these days) fails miserably in that department. It doesn't skimp on the nudity, though, and has no qualms about paying naked tribute to the many jock ass-sex as sleaze angles that permeated dozens of horror movies during the 1980s. Two other inferior and failed Nispel remakes, PATHFINDER (which had a damn fine trailer[2007]) and CONAN (2010) have done nothing to improve his reputation. Currently, Nispel is still aboard the remake train reportedly at work on an all new version of THE FLY.


Hollywood is filled with instances of individuals being dealt a cruel twist of fate; filmmakers make a big splash with a down and dirty debut, but fizzle out after being saddled with mediocre material. At the same time, others seem to thrive while continuously cranking out crap. The forgotten Ohio born filmmaker, Jeff Burr is one such director who fell victim of the former. His 1987 horror debut, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM was a raw, taboo trashing and sadistic return of the anthology film that packed necrophilia, cannibalism, incest, child murder and other unsavory's into a 100 minute running time. Boasting a great cast including the likes of Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Cameron Mitchell and Martine Beswick, WHISPER got a title change when it was briefly unleashed to North American theaters as THE OFFSPRING; a reference to the films first tale. From here, Burr would fall into the bottomless pit of sequels and remakes. His next, actually being pretty good, was the sequel to the sleeper hit, THE STEPFATHER (1987). That film, STEPFATHER 2 (1989), saw Terry O'Quinn return to menace a new family. Meg Foster and Hooper's CHAINSAW 2's Caroline Williams star. In a slight change from the first movie, the level of gore was increased, which lumped this in more comfortably with other horror films that were more blatant about their slasher heritage.

With one impressively creepy gorefest and a well made sequel under his belt, Burr was next attached to direct the much derided third chapter in the TEXAS CHAINSAW saga. This one, LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 (1990), wallowed in its grotesqueries, but suffered severely at the hands of the MPAA. Also, David Schow's original script apparently had a lot of elements that were deemed to disturbing to be filmed (such as dancing with entrails!). The film does have some powerful moments (the opening credits sequence is impressive at capturing the right atmosphere), but unnecessary contrivances such as an Excalibur Chainsaw and silly pseudo comical moments lessen the films overall impact. The trailer featuring Leatherface retrieving the Excalibur saw from a lake prior to it being struck by lightning is better than the actual movie and it features no scenes from the film. After this troubled production, Burr remained trapped in remake purgatory excreting such minor movies like PUMPKINHEAD 2: BLOOD WINGS (1994) and two entries in the PUPPETMASTER series. Working sporadically in the genre, it's a shame he never capitalized on his offensively endearing debut horror feature.



Friday, February 17, 2012

Heroes of Horror: New Blood & Old Hats Part 2


On the opposite end of the spectrum, Europe has produced a great many genre filmmakers passionate about their craft in ways not always associated with the commerciality of their product. Guys like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino and Antonio Margheriti have contributed works that, while often designed for overseas markets, have left a bloody brand that remains seared into the minds of numerous modern cinema directors. In the Italian market of today, horror directors are essentially a dead breed, having yet to rise from the dead to feast on the flesh of the living once more. Dario Argento seems to be the only one left in the coliseum even if his cinematic sword has dulled rendering his output more and more ridiculous. His newest, DRACULA 3D (2012), looks to be the single most unintentionally hilarious adaptation of Stoker's novel yet. There's CGI aplenty, Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing and a giant preying mantis of all things. I've never been the biggest Argento fan, but I do enjoy some of his earlier works. His films are generally consistent in that they seldom make much sense, but benefit from dizzying camerawork and nightmarish imagery.

Dario and his daughter, Asia.


Michele Soavi seemed to be the last great hope for Italian horror with his stylized slasher debut, STAGE FRIGHT (1987). This movie took the tired and all too familiar 'stalk and kill' machinations and made them appear fresh again all the while creating a visually satisfying canvas with which to place his characters in peril. In America at the time, the slasher was nothing more than a parody of itself, bogged down in redundant sequels and meandering shot on video schlock. Soavi reportedly left the industry to take care of family matters, but he left behind an impressive, if small body of work that showed a good deal of promise. Meanwhile, Argento continued his downward spiral...What's most fascinating and ironic about vintage Italian genre cinema, particularly those of the 70s and 80s, is how brazenly close they copied American movies to the point where it became impossible for some of them to be shown in North American theaters. The irony of all this is how American filmmakers clone and copy foreign product these days, only under the guise of a "remake", to which the original can be frequently, and conveniently swept under the rug, so to speak. The rest of the Cloners who aren't always shy about the location of the well from which they've drank, ultimately drown themselves in an adolescent pool of imitation. In most cases, this non stop barrage of homage to far better movies is just laziness that passes for originality these days.


"I'm never going to explain the spelling....When you do an artistic flourish like that, to describe it, to explain it, to take the piss out of it would invalidate the whole stroke in the first place."
--QT describing, or not describing his Inglourious reasoning behind the misspelling of his INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, a title borrowed from Enzo G. Castellari's 'Men On A Mission' movie, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978).

American directors today like Quentin Tarantino, and Eli Roth were greatly influenced by the heavyweights of Italian genre pictures and have paid homage to them in their movies. Both of these directors have similar styles, but approach them in vastly different ways. The former prefers to take his influences and mangle the hell out of them, adding puzzling nuances and topping his movie cake with the most arrogant of icing that reached a pretentious pinnacle with the glorious misfire that was GRINDHOUSE (2007); a truly wretched movie that purported to have the best of intentions, but instead came off as some sort of vanity project for Robert Rodriguez and, especially, Tarantino. Mr. (Q)T is likely the prime suspect for the spate of "Hip Talent" that are responsible for an ever growing number of craptacular, self referential movies that spends more time winking at the audience as opposed to scaring them. Tarantino has shown his adulation for the works of Italian cinema directors in such films as KILL BILL (2003), THE INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2010) and the upcoming titanic turd bearing the name of DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012); a film that bears little to no resemblance to Sergio Corbucci's DJANGO (1966), a seminal ballet of mud, blood and violence starring Franco Nero.

Roth, on the other hand, took a different route. He has directed relatively few films at this point, but his pictures were rife with gruesome mayhem sprinkled with subtle paeans to pictures past. CABIN FEVER (2003) was a peculiar viewing experience and a rare film that, despite being shot in 2003, occasionally had a feel of a much older movie. HOSTEL (2005), a movie that made an enormous splash both on the big screen and in box office receipts, recalled the groundbreakingly graphic sex-gore-torture movies popularized by Teruo Ishii in the late 1960s starting with JOY OF TORTURE in 1968. Aside from a palpable sense of dread, there was little substance in the HOSTEL. However, for HOSTEL 2 (2007), Roth "matured" and fashioned a superior sequel that met with a surprising amount of backlash from fans. A bigger story, better performances, richer characterization and some awfully disturbing imagery (the Bathory sequence is a major highlight) showed Roth to be a promising talent. In addition, a thick European aura permeates this entry even more than the first time around; not just in its locations, but cameos by Edwige Fenech, Luc Merenda and a choice appearance by Ruggero Deodato enhance the proceedings. These recognizable faces are used in a far more restrained manner than anything Tarantino has done. After a great many people illegally downloaded the movie prior to it tanking at the box office, a seemingly frustrated Roth fell off the directing radar and has been content with producing and acting roles ever since. Hopefully Roth will get back in the game at some point.

Contrary to others in the filmmaking field, Eli Roth has been more successful at paying a gory debt to the films that inspired him. Regardless of what some may think of him, he has taken elements from some of Europe's most sadistic motion pictures and made an entirely new dish out of them. Unfortunately, very few others have done that. It also does the current crop of horror filmmakers little good in that they all blend together. There's little, if any defining signature to differentiate one directors movie from the other when they're all doing virtually the same thing. Europe's impact (among other influences) on American horror filmmakers is unmistakable. There's one man from Italy who is arguably solely responsible for the majority of movie makers living their dream whether in horror, or in other styles of cinema.


Bava photo from BLACK SABBATH (1963); Insert: Fulci and Bava.

Mario Bava was truly a horror fans movie director. He seemed to have just as much fun making his films as the audiences that continue to view them to this day. His films were rife with imagination and a child-like wonder. Just as a kid would build a castle in his sandbox, Bava played with the look of a scene inserting assorted colors, fog and any haunting imagery his vivid mind could muster. The actors merely enhanced this visual playground and all with extremely limited means. Atmosphere encrusted pictures like BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and BLACK SABBATH (1963) are two supreme examples of Bava's magic, while films such as BARON BLOOD (1972) attempted to capture that earlier whimsy, but to less effect as changing trends demanded a different, more grim look to horror. Papa Bava also bears a degree of responsibility for influencing the slasher craze that stalked the 1980s with every sharp implement imaginable through his goriest effort, BAY OF BLOOD in 1972. All the components are there including such necessary ingredients as youngsters engaging in sexual activities and creative death scenes.

As the 70s lingered, Bava seemed to lose a bit of that luster that made his 60s films so memorable. Still, he was a unique talent that hasn't been tapped in quite the same way since. The list of directors influenced by his dark fairy tales is a long one and some of these aren't filmmakers indigenous to the horror genre. Guys like Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro are the closest approximations to Bava's style, only they have more money to work with. Both directors have utilized the fairy tale aesthetic to great effect in their films and far more successfully than some of the current crop of slop artists who portend to pay "loving tribute" with their interpretation of throwback cinema. Curiously enough, a Bavian touch of macabre elegance resides in both directors works that aren't full blown horror. Gothic horror was on the wane during the 70s and Britain's Hammer Films, the leading progenitor of the form were vainly trying to stay relevant with their vampires, hulking monsters and busty women in diaphanous gowns while EXORCISTs and CHAINSAW MASSACREs occurred all around them. Bava's output during this time suffered, but Italian horror in general prospered and succeeded in turning the Gothic into gore drenched wastelands. The more imaginative, fanciful Gothic has yet to enjoy the sort of renaissance it had during the second wave ushered in by Hammer Films in the late 1950s.


Out of all of Hammer's talent pool, arguably the best of the ghoulish bunch would have to be Terence Fisher. The guiding force behind the reinvigoration of the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises, Fisher was one of Britain's finest horror directors. His terror trifecta of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and THE MUMMY (1959) made Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing major icons of horror all around the world. Oddly enough, the spooky aspects seemed to interest him less than the romanticism he often tried to convey in his movies. Under the Hammer umbrella, Fisher was first in terrorizing audiences with Gothic horror dripping in blood red color and managed to crank out somewhere in the ballpark of 20 horror movies including the likes of THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973).

Hammer loved their women, and the curvier the better. Actresses like Veronica Carlson (at left and above) and Ingrid Pitt enriched the company's product tremendously adding a great amount of sex to compensate the sadism. There was a sexual subtext in many of Fisher's films that was considered overly offensive by critics of the day. Looking back now, it's difficult to see what the fuss was about. However, one can appreciate that subjects such as infidelity, necrophilia and sexual liberation would be hidden within a Gothic framework of what are essentially monster movies made by grown up kids. These subjects were also featured in the Italian Gothics, too, but were usually a bit more explicit. Looking at the Italian and German Gothic horror films, there's a noticeable difference from their British counterparts. There's a grittier look and darker mood that lingers emitting an aura that's unmistakably European. Possibly because the foreign language films utilized many real locales as opposed to a dominance of studio sets; this gives the British productions a heavier accent towards emulating fairy tales with added blood and violence. Bava melded both in his movies creating a style uniquely his own. Hammer has made something of a comeback recently, so here's hoping their renewed success will lead to the resurrection of the serious Gothic horror picture.


Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

In the early part of the new millennium, the genre received a point blank shot to the head when Euro horror once again began to blossom and bloom, but this time in dark red brush strokes. Armed with an understanding of 70s cinematic brute force and a Hitchcockian sense of playing on audience perception, Alexandre Aja marched on international shores with the intriguingly savage HIGH TENSION (2003). Rarely had a single horror film caused so much rejoice and anger as this one did during its release. Armed with an array of juicily spectacular gore effects by famed splatter master, Gianetto de Rossi and a daring and shocking turn of events towards the end, Aja's movie was one to be reckoned with. The olden days of folks passing out in theaters or nervous patrons exiting screenings in disgust were about to dawn once more bolstered by the French New Wave. While America was busy remaking Japanese and Spanish horror pictures with rapidity, France was embarking on their own brand of stylized, extreme horror. Paying tribute to the savage sinema of the 1970s and splatter opuses of the 1980s, guys like Aja and the deadly duo of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo took their influences and made them original again.

Despite relying on dollops of gore, these French fear specialists showed themselves proficient enough to wring the right amount of tension to accentuate the graphic cruelty on display. Aja in particular made a big enough splash for Hollywood to offer him the opportunity to remake Wes Craven's cult classic, THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) in 2006. Aja not only respectfully acknowledged the original, but also expanded on it, crafting one of the most impressive remakes of the current avalanche of 'do overs' raping movie theaters across the country. Sadly, Aja's directorial skills have so far only been used in the remake arena. His MIRRORS (2008) was a remake of a Korean horror film while PIRANHA 3D (2010) mined territory from the Joe Dante directed original, one of the best and most famous of Roger Corman's New World Pictures product.

The aforementioned Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo threw a couple of fast upper cuts out of nowhere with the dark vision that was INSIDE from 2007. This sincerely disturbed horror flick ended up being one of the most fiercely original concepts to come along in some time. Watching the picture, it's obvious John Carpenter was influential on these two filmmakers. There's a strong sense of impending dread before all the gore sets in. Essentially of the 'home invasion' style of horror film, the finale features one of the most nightmarishly outrageous endings of all time. I remember rewatching the movie immediately after the first viewing to make sure I hadn't imagined it all. Now doubt impressing Hollywood suits, the double team were offered some North American propositions. Attached to various horror projects such as HALLOWEEN 2 (the sequel to the Rob Zombie abortion that the Z meister ended up directing himself) and HELLRAISER, these were yet more remakes as opposed to original productions. The two decided to remain in France and their new movie, LIVID (2011) is an original feature as well, and looks to be another winner.

Pascal Laugier is another French filmmaker who has recently been courted by Hollywood to helm yet more remakes after his dangerously sadistic movie MARTYRS (2008) raised a serious storm of controversy on the festival circuit. A difficult movie to sit through, it's violence is powerful and Laugier packs his film with as much disturbing imagery as possible. Again, it's yet another impressive, if beautifully reprehensible European horror picture that puts the glut of immature American horror to shame. Meanwhile, Hollywood, weary of remaking popular Japanese ghost movies, decides to remake the magnificent goosebumper, REC, a Spanish zombie scarefest from 2007 as a note for note clone under the title of QUARANTINE (2008). They also felt the need to give away the ending in both the trailer and on the poster. Currently, Laugier is reportedly at work on an original work entitled THE TALL MAN. While Aja has seemingly succumbed to the remake machine for the time being, hopefully Laugier will be able to formally introduce himself on these shores with an equally stunning work of grotesque art.



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Heroes of Horror: New Blood & Old Hats Part 1


It's safe to say that horror has changed a great deal over the years. Every facet of this oft derided cinema style has been altered in some way from previous decades as well as coming full circle in others. With the passage of time, the genre has gotten more and more graphic, eventually falling into a glut of repetitiveness and lazy ideas till someone comes along and shakes things up again. So far, there has yet to appear the new Bava, Raimi, Romero, Carpenter, or Hooper. There's been some promising talents to crop up, but like so much of 70s brutal horror and exploitation, this is more down to an enterprising hotshot hungry to shock an audience ultimately proving to be a flash in the pan till the fire has extinguished itself. The 70s, a decade brimming with grotesque visionaries, produced some of horrors biggest names, but also a lot of unrealized potential. Either these upstart directors continually produced pictures of little to no substance, or simply fell off the radar altogether. Many of them went on to careers in the industry, or found bigger fame in other genres. Where and who are the new crop of Horror Heroes?

Reflective of the trashy, low budget exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s, horror today tends to gravitate towards that very same "gore the merrier" attitude with so little left to the imagination. Only now the budgets are greatly increased and the films look a helluva lot slicker. Bigger isn't necessarily better, though. It's the same evisceration, decapitation, disembowelment over and over with a darker shade of blood with each passing flick and as much in the way of creative killing as the minds of the writers can muster. This is what passes for imagination in so many of horrors crop these days. For many, non stop gore is enough. That's not to say there isn't some ingenuity out there making the rounds, but like years past, this is relegated to a number of the independent filmmakers which are receiving some fierce competition from hungry foreign directors from Europe and Japan. In many of these cases involving foreign imports, if American producers can't beat them, they remake them.

One of the many retitlings of Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1976)

Speaking of imagination, the guiding hand behind these vintage movies often cared about the finished product as well as satisfying the audience paying to see them in addition to giving them both goosebumps and something to think about on the way home. It wasn't always about grossing out the audience. There used to be a time when horror fans got giddy with the mere mention of an upcoming Romero movie, or the new production from Craven and Raimi. Hell, even at his lowest ebb beginning in the mid 1980s, Tobe Hooper still had the ability to rally his terror troops in the hopes he'd pull a good movie out of his hat. Some of Horrors Heroes have went on to "greener" pastures (Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson), but still retain their roots, so to speak. There also comes a time when these elder statesmen have reached the pinnacle of their craft and need to be "put out to pasture", despite carrying on with purportedly dismal results.


George Romero, frequently pointed out by his fanbase, is an example of this. Rarely has one of his non-zombie pictures attracted any lasting notoriety; yet when he delivers a new film about his most famous subject, fans reject it with contempt. Understandably, DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) is an extremely difficult film to follow up on. In its day, DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) received a fair amount of criticism from fans for various reasons, but is now considered a classic. Since then, Romero has turned out a few new zombie adventures with each being different from the one before it and with each having something to say between the lines. There has been a serious divide among fans regarding Romero's newer dead opuses, but one thing differentiates them from the rest of the independent pack; films like LAND OF THE DEAD (2005), DIARY OF THE DEAD (2008) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010) are all original takes on the dead tired zombie genre. They all tread different territory. Meanwhile, mega drivel like FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (2007) and DIE-NER (2010) receive a befuddling amount of high praise. Romero has directed a fair number of good movies outside of the living dead canon (MARTIN, CREEPSHOW), but he was so impeccably rough around the edges and didactic with his approach to the zombie mythos, everything he has done, or continue to do will constantly be compared to DAWN OF THE DEAD; and to an extent, his groundbreaking NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD from 1968.

Romero was so successful in his revisionism of the living dead that he inspired an entire European onslaught of flesh eating cinema that lasted some two decades. Guys like Jorg Grau, Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei have attained cult status with their own good, bad and downright nasty examples of the flesh shredding, shuffling dead. The Italian walking dead movie threatens to rise again with the release of the modern day gladiator zombie-slasher flick MORITURIS (2011) and the apocalyptic EATERS (2011), the latter of which is presented by Uwe Boll of all people. Boll's "name brand" will surely succeed in putting the proverbial bullet in the brain of the possibility of a new Italian zombie renaissance.


There also used to be a time when directors who frequently dabbled in the genre churned out consistently well mounted pictures and even those that frequently regurgitated mediocre movies still managed to amass and maintain a loyal cult of followers. Nowadays, a director can excrete multiple mediocre movies and be heralded a 'Master of Horror' because his film homages past artists and their superior accomplishments (1,000 cut rate corpses in a big ol' creepy house, anyone?). Some others armed with a slim resume even go so far as to adorn their own film with their name above the title (It's not easy bein' Green). John Carpenter earned the right to do this with consecutive GOOD movies. Prior to the blind imperiousness of some of today's 'rock'em sock'em horror directors, there was one such moviemaker who exploded out of the gate with one of the genres most controversial and critically appreciated examples of the cinematic endurance test. Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is a prime illustration of a movie that descends the darkest recesses of man and visibly shakes its audience out of a shock induced state of catatonia without utilizing anything in the way of extreme gore. The power of the film would fool you into thinking you saw flesh being penetrated by the jagged sharpness of a chainsaw, but that would be your imagination filling in the blanks. Very few, if any horror pictures can pull this off today.

Sadly, Hooper would lose momentum shortly after the start of the 1980s. However, he did direct the single scariest and unsettling vampire movie ever made with the Stephen King adaptation of SALEM'S LOT in 1979 and a choice slasher entitled THE FUNHOUSE in 1981. After directing the troubled production that was POLTERGEIST (1982), Hooper went further downhill, but did manage to turn in a reasonably dark vision with the pseudo remake, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS in 2004. Hooper faithfully sequelized his seminal piece of deranged Americana in 1986, but ultimately fell off the terror train with such wretched movies as SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (1990) and CROCODILE (2000).


In the 1960s you could count on filmmakers such as 'Master of the MacGuffin', Alfred Hitchcock and Italy's macabre maestro, Mario Bava to regularly deliver chillers to the masses. Both artists are like night and day when comparing their styles. Hitchcock was capable of crafting incredibly stylish motion pictures with veritable ease as well as becoming one of cinemas most significant moviemakers. While he isn't known as a horror director, his PSYCHO (1960) alone is responsible for a legion of future slashers, and his THE BIRDS (1963) could be viewed as the film that made audiences take the 'Nature Amok' sub genre seriously. The pedigree and popularity of both those milestones will always keep Hitch in close association with horror. Arguably Britain's most influential export in the movie world, his closest approximation to emulating that style in America would be Brian De Palma. Again, this director is not known for being a horror filmmaker; his monumentally frightening 1976 film CARRIE has solidified himself a spot among the horror faithful. Some of his other films such as SISTERS (1973), PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974), THE FURY (1978) and DRESSED TO KILL (1980) have elements of horror in them as well.

Steven Spielberg is among a small contingent of filmmakers who either started in horror, or flirted with it occasionally before embarking on a career of greater expanse ranging from adventure spectacles to powerfully dramatic features. His early works on the TV show NIGHT GALLERY and the terrifyingly taut TV Movie DUEL (1971) notwithstanding, Spielberg was responsible for one of horrors seminal works, the first major blockbuster, JAWS (1975). Spielberg may not be a horror director, but this movie that almost wasn't contains more sheer terror than a dozen so called horror films in today's market. JAWS is that rare breed of movie that resonates as much fear now as it did during the time of its release. His INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984), a film that was so shocking that it caused the creation of the PG-13 rating, also has enough 'shock and awe-fully' gory moments to fill the bloody coffers of the average horror hound. What's overwhelmingly sad about the mention of Hitchcock, De Palma and Spielberg is that those three randomly selected filmmakers have made far better horror movies than the very directors who claim to be the genres champions of today. The glut of what passes for horror these days is infected with a PORKY'S level mentality and it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon, nor does it appear to be growing up.


Adam Green and his HATCHET 2 crew

By comparison, what we get today from directors who work predominantly, or exclusively in the horror genre puke up garbage like HATCHET (2006) and 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS (2009), the crap sequel to the borderline mess that is 2001 MANIACS (2005). The director of HATCHET is the noticeably enthusiastic Adam Green. Boldy stating a return to "oldschool American horror", HATCHET gets by on splashy gore effects, decent atmosphere and cameos by genre regulars such as Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and little else. Oldschool American Horror was scary, not funny the last time I checked. Allegedly, this throwaway fear flick has since earned itself a cult following. It did manage to garner an infantile sequel that repudiated much of the mythology that came before it going so far as to introduce the supernatural into the mix. HATCHET 2 stars horror heroine and fan favorite Danielle Harris. Here, she manages to mangle an accent that comes and goes; there's even more splatter effects laced with even more painful comedy and even worse dialog and direction. After a disastrous limited theatrical showing, this one quickly hit DVD and apparently sold enough units to deserve(?) a third installment which threatens to slap the horror genre in the face a third time later this year.

Green did helm one of the most intense horror pictures of the new millennium in the form of FROZEN (2010); a taut terror tale about three friends accidentally left stranded atop a ski lift which will be closed for an entire week. Surprisingly, this single locale provides numerous opportunities to generate genuine horror and Green doesn't disappoint. Sadly, Green would return to juvenile horror-ible with the aforementioned and thoroughly abysmal HATCHET 2 (2010). Amazingly, the films title bears the directors name above it in a pretentious bit of showboating the likes of which hasn't been seen since Carpenter's days. Incidentally, Carpenter had made a few GOOD movies prior to utilizing such a practice. In its minor measure of defense, HATCHET 2 does sport some spectacular poster artwork. Green also added his name to the even more vapid, hopelessly puerile crapola that is CHILLERAMA (2011). His 'Diary of Anne Frankenstein' segment displays the most creativity of the bunch, but that's not saying a whole helluva lot. This movie, an anthology which is supposed to be a tribute of sorts to the bygone days of the drive in, is anything but. It's more of an insult and an embarrassment to those involved. If you find non stop dick jokes your idea of hilarity, then this is your movie. Incredibly lame, the film also sports the participation by another director who has been heralded as one of horrors hopefuls, Tim Sullivan.

Sullivan (left) with another horror hopeful, Eli Roth (right), a guy who was beginning to shine before he slowed down to a crawl after a seemingly frustrating experience with the superior HOSTEL 2 (2007)

Sullivan has worked in various capacities on various movies of varying quality, but his directed efforts leave a lot to be desired. Just based on his two MANIACS movies and that pathetic CHILLERAMA segment, there's nothing visibly apparent to show any ability to drum up the most elementary of horror basics. Elementary is a good word to describe his horror-ible movies; his "Werebear" segment in the aforementioned eyesore that is CHILLERAMA being a chief component to the sorry state of horror these days. Astonishingly, Sullivan is reportedly spearheading a series of horror related productions bearing a "Tim Sullivan Presents" moniker. The mind boggles. Guys like George Romero and Tobe Hooper had true ambition and brought their nightmares to the screen with an incredibly small amount of funds and driven by dedication to their craft. Both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) became serious cult classics because they were scary and relied on societal issues to enhance their value. They had a lot to say about mankind as well as distorted familial values and not a dick joke in sight. Today, the filmmaking horror hipsters are uber cool because they stuff their films with familiar faces and nods to past horror favorites made with ten times the bloody beating heart and soul. To hell with actual skill or a good script when you got Sid Haig and Bill Moseley for marquee value, right?



Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.