[1 September 2011]
Detroit Free Press (MCT)
When it comes to scary films, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. The most horrifying movie I’ve seen in a while is “Inside Job,” the Oscar-winning 2010 documentary exploring the 2008 financial meltdown. It stars Wall Street as Dracula, credit default swaps as Frankenstein and the average American’s investments as the terrorized populace — in metaphorical terms, at least.
Hollywood has gravitated toward gore and gruesomeness in recent years, losing sight of the classic way to frighten viewers: Let them use their imaginations. But a trio of new films seems promising. One is a remake of a TV gem, one is drenched in conspiracy theories and one is a ripped-from-the-headlines dramatization that harkens back to retro scares that reigned before the federal deficit.
I’ve watched the trailers, and I’m afraid I want to see all of them. Here’s a look at why they could mark a return to a more creative style of creepiness.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”
Rated R; now in theaters
The premise: An architect and his girlfriend and young daughter move into a Gothic manor and busy themselves restoring it. But this old house turns into a nightmare as the little girl tries to convince the adults that she’s being menaced by tiny creatures hiding in the basement.
Deja view: It’s a reboot of a 1973 ABC movie-of-the-week with Kim Darby that was more bloodcurdling than the Watergate hearings and eerie enough to make a generation of tweens want to leave the lights on at night through the Ford and Carter administrations.
The big names: The new version stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce and was co-written and produced by visually inventive director Guillermo del Toro, who has described the original as the scariest television movie he saw as a child.
The bright side: Even if the stock market tanks, a recession is easier to rebound from than an attack of little monsters.
Rated PG-13; opens Friday
The premise: So-called “found footage” of a never-before-revealed moon landing shows the hapless astronauts discover something much, much worse than a missed putt during gravity-free golfing.
Deja view: It’s got the this-really-happened style of “The Blair Witch Project” and the mysterious conspiracy aura of “Lost.” And like recent hits “X-Men: First Class” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” it uses recent history as a jumping-off point. Consider the tagline: “There’s a reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.”
The big names: It’s purportedly an actual recording from a secret mission. The poster doesn’t have the names of any actors, writers or directors. Either this is genius marketing from Weinstein or someone broke into NASA’s secret vault, which is next to Bigfoot’s exercise room inside Area 51.
The bright side: “Jaws” kept people away from shark territory. What is this going to do, discourage you from spending a billion on a private shuttle to outer space?
Rated PG-13, opens Sept. 9
The premise: We have nothing to fear but fear itself — and a global pandemic. This star-studded thriller follows what happens when the world faces a mutating virus that knows no borders.
Deja view: “Outbreak” tackled a similar theme in 1995, but with cheesy melodrama. The action here sounds more along the lines of the “The Hot Zone,” the 1990s nonfiction best-selling book about the dreaded Ebola virus.
The big names: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard lead an ensemble cast directed by Steven Soderbergh.
The bright side: None, but a prospect as bleak as the one portrayed here does put things in perspective. The digital counter at the movie’s Web site illustrates the potential speed of such an epidemic. It’s a lot more terrifying than the spiraling U.S. debt tote board.