Now this is more like it. Instead of your typical week at the local B&M, shelves lined with lots of standard mainstream cinema, the full moon howlings of the Halloween season are finally finding purchase among DVD distributors. This week, in particular, a lot of double dips and sparkling special editions of horror favorites (good and groan inducing) are making a major play for your hard earned weekly pay. Not that there aren’t other more ‘normal’ titles in the offing – you could opt for a documentary about the military industrial complex, a new version of Katheleen Turner’s steamy cinematic debut, or a complete collection of the classics that made Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers the Hollywood musical’s most mesmerizing partnership ever. Still, with the leaves turning autumnal and the smell of fireplaces filling the air, nothing says ‘seven more days ‘til Halloween’ better than a good old fashioned frightening. The creepshow choices (plus one bit of sunny Summer fluff) available for 24 October include:
For most movie fans, Project: Greenlight has been a failure, especially as an intended purveyor of independent cinema. As a guilty pleasure reality show train wreck however, it’s been nothing short of brilliant. But the movies that have resulted from this experiment in overdriven ego have been nothing short of sad…until now. Fans of gore-loaded lunacy and old fashioned spook show fun will definitely dig on this throwback to a more viscous view of horror. With a narrative revolving around some monsters attacking the customers in a redneck bar, the clothesline plotting is perfect for lots of nasty set-piece bloodletting. Credit director John Gulager (son of Return of the Living Dead‘s Clu) and a saucy script by fellow film first timers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton for getting the grue mostly right. Sure, this is a lame low budget bungle with almost no character development and a shaky sense of cinematic prerequisites, but when was the last time a film found a way to be foul and frivolous at the same time. Something like that takes a specialized scare talent.
In the Dark*
If you can get through the first act of this well meaning mock macabre, you will find yourself thoroughly enjoying this inventive riff on the whole Blair Witch school of ‘you are there’ terror. Indeed, the best part about this otherwise average horror attempt is the way in which writer/director Slater Kane and his collection of feature film amateurs set out to sell us on the reality behind this Halloween visit to the burned out Ridgley Institution. Using a wonderfully evocative real life backdrop, and a nice combination of hand-held and security camera shots, we do get the impression of being along on a holiday party prank gone horribly, horribly wrong. Sure, some of the sequences are slapdash, but we definitely end up with something that succeeds more than it stumbles. Kudos then to a creative ideal that wants to be as realistic as possible, while also understanding that the best horror films have artistic flourishes that keep the fans fixated and on the edge of their scary movie seats.
Thankfully, this is one computer generated cartoon that doesn’t fall into the typical genre trappings. It doesn’t offer cutesy, cuddly anthropomorphic beings voiced by famous celebrities cracking Borscht Belt level pop culture quips. There’s no major moral about believing in yourself or savoring your friendships. There’s only one major action setpiece, and it grows instinctually out of the storyline, not merely tossed in to show off the computing power. The wee ones won’t be clamoring for Chowder or Zee action figures and only the most seasoned film going youngster will find anything instantly “likeable” about the knotty narrative. It’s a credit then to Executive Producers Stephen Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. They have made the first tween classic, a movie destined to be remembered by audience members a little too old for talking cars and wise cracking woodland creatures, but still unable to enjoy the harsher elements a PG-13 or R film has to offer. For them, this is a Goonies to get lost in, an amiable adventure yarn that has action and atmosphere to burn.
My Dead Girlfriend*
Like a far less substantive Shaun of the Dead, this quirky little comedy from independent titan Tempe gets by on great big globs of goodwill and a sunny script that’s more slacker silliness than uproarious horror. Canadian outsider auteur Brett Kelly, responsible for The Feral Man and the Bonesetter series, tries something decidedly different here. Instead of pouring on the brooding, atmospheric elements of your standard living dead horror film, Kelly finds the funny center to a scary situation and then cranks up the irony a couple of witty notches. The result is a sometimes clever, sometimes cloying attempt to avoid the standard zombie clichés while making the frightening and the funny pay off in ways that are noticeable, not nominal. Though we never completely connect with the characters onscreen, and have a hard time getting a handle on the “mythology” aspects of this monster movie, the overall effect is one of witty experimentation in the melding of genres.
Okay, so it isn’t Napoleon Dynamite. Frankly, what could be? Jared Hess and his uniquely named wife Jerusha delivered a devastatingly original take on human folly with their look at a bunch of Idaho eccentrics, and very few films could match its amiable instant karma. So it’s unfair to grade Nacho Libre by any other standards that it’s own. Sure, Hess shows a great deal of cinematic sameness with his food-oriented opening and random blackout gags (what was with that corncob to the eye, anyway). Still, as a look at the Luchadores of Mexico and the way in which they infiltrate and influence the everyday life of the country’s sun-dried citizenry, this is a clever, cute little movie. And while it doesn’t have Napoleon Dynamite’s wealth of quotable dialogue (it’s a safe bet no spelling bee-er will be giving a shout out to pals with that “stretchy pants” line), it does contain enough clever moments to warrant a real reel recommendation.
Saw 2: Unrated Director’s Cut*
The first Saw announced a new kind of horror into the seemingly stagnant genre – a brutal and confrontational style of scares that many have now labeled ‘violence porn’. Sadly, such a title may indeed be appropriate for this less than stunning sequel. Everything that James Wan got right in the initial narrative is all but missing here. Instead, there is a real attempt to turn Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw into a new terror icon while mimicking the “clever kills” from the original tale. A few work, while a couple seem sadly derivative. It’s as if first time filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman forgot what makes movie macabre work, and instead, focused on keeping the cat and mouse guessing game the center of the scares. While there is some worthwhile material here (the acting is uniformly good, and the art direction is downright creepy) we end up wanting more of the complex, clockwork plotting of Saw I and less of the redundant retreading that this effort seems to thrive on.
Writer (and now director) James Gunn holds a very odd place within current fright filmography. Responsible for the terrific Tromeo and Juliet and the quite decent remake of Dawn of the Dead, he has also foisted the forgettable pair of Scooby-Doo features on film fans’ fragile heads. This makes his first solo effort all the more creatively complicated. In some ways, Gunn is giving us the best of both worlds – a true splatter filled return to the days when he worked closely with indie icon Lloyd Kaufman, as well as a taste of the contemporary scares that have been his box office bread and butter. Overloaded with homages to zombie films, alien invasion flicks and those mindless mutant monster b-movies that used to clog up the bottom shelf at your local Mom and Pop video store, Gunn delivers the kind of sensational, satiric schlock that many post-modern genre films sorely lack. Here’s hoping there’s more of this kind of movie in his future. Fear often needs a shot of silliness to keep it from going completely astray.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 24 October:
Sweetie: The Criterion Collection*
Sweetie is a strange experience, a movie made up almost exclusively out of hints and suggestions. Nothing is ever discussed outright in this amazingly nuanced narrative, and issues that appear to be boiling below the surface are simply allowed to simmer and soak into everything around them. Obviously, as portrayed by Australian auteur Jane Campion in her first feature film, this is a family hiding a mountain of damaging dysfunction behind their dry, sometimes even dopey, demeanor. Whether it’s just a simple case of one child’s uncontrolled Id crashing into the rest of her family’s slighted and submerged egos, or something far more sinister and suspect, the result is a ticking human time bomb waiting to insert itself into situations and simply implode. As a tale of people picking each other apart for the sake of their own sense of security, Sweetie represents one of the most amazing family dramas every delivered to celluloid. But there is more to the movie than just a sizable sibling spat with parents unable to control their progeny. In the hands of Campion, it is art animated.