Showing posts with label horror films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror films. Show all posts

Monday, April 30, 2012

Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

I finally got around to watching The Cabin in the Woods a few nights ago. It’s a hard film to talk about without spoiling things, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to wait until you have before reading the rest of this.

Let’s start with the first obvious thing: The Cabin in the Woods is not a horror film.

Yes, there’s plenty of ketchup splattering the walls (especially near the end) and people die, but it’s a film that’s more likely to set the audience laughing than gripping the armrests in white-knuckle terror.

And the second obvious thing: The Cabin in the Woods is bloody brilliant.

I really liked the film. It’s inventive and highly entertaining. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines. It also has perhaps one of the finest Oh Crap moments ever set to film (If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the one I mean). As entertainment, it’s perfect.

And the final obvious thing: Entertainment is not what most people will talk about when discussing The Cabin in the Woods.

Yep, it’s the meta, baby. It’s all about the subverting, deconstructing and bending of common horror tropes while tipping a knowing wink to the audience. It’s not a new concept for horror. Scream revitalised the jaded slasher sub-genre by including self-aware characters and playing around with the obvious clichés. Feast replaced Twenty Minutes With Jerks with freeze-frame captions and then plays merry hell with the usual horror death tropes. Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games (a deliberately uncomfortable film to watch) makes the audience complicit in the carnage.

Cabin is a lighter, fluffier version of Funny Games in that the entities behind everything can be seen as proxies for the audience. The main characters start off as relatively normal human beings, and are then manipulated into becoming the tired stereotypes of the films Cabin is lampooning. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard do a good job of introducing the slasher bait and making them seem like likable human beings. This is a vast improvement over Goddard’s last film, Cloverfield, where the vacuous obnoxiousness of the leads dragged down an interesting concept.

There was potential here for Whedon and Goddard to take the film down a much more visceral, nastier path by juxtaposing the early humour with the grim realities of the character’s fates, but by rejecting the torture porn ethos of recent horror they also reject the chance of taking the film out of the other horror ghetto of Played for Laughs. Horror doesn’t need more smirking, self-aware films; it needs films that sock the viewer in the guts. In that respect Cabin isn’t a game-changer. For me, a game-changer would be a film that delivers genuine scares, has well-rounded characters worth giving a damn about, and just about stays within the line of entertainment. Sounds so simple, but I can’t see Hollywood making it until they remember how to make horror films for adults, rather than fifteen-year-old boys.

In summary, The Cabin in the Woods is great fun to watch, but if you’re expecting to be shocked out of your socks, you’re going to go home disappointed. I wanted to see a sexy witch...

It’s also given me an idea for a little writing project (as if I haven’t got enough of those on the go already!). More on that later…maybe…

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Thing of Subtle Beauty (Not!)

Oh Anne Billson, you are such a tease. I saw a link titled Six Reasons Why The Thing Prequel Is Better Than John Carpenter’s 1982 Film and feared the worst. The film critic and horror author formerly known as Anne Billson must have been consumed, digested and copied by an alien shape-shifting horror. Fetch the flamethrower before it can infect others!

Then I read the article and all was right with the world.

I saw the film back around Halloween and as low as my expectations were, they were not low enough. My criticisms are the same as Billson’s—The needless introductory scene for Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, her cute-but-clever scientist character coming straight out of the big book of Hollywood monster movie stereotypes, the evil scientist dude from the same boring book of clichés, the bland CGI fx, and the many many moments of bone-headed stupidity.

The biggest shame is this wasn’t a case of They Just Didn’t Care. Someone went to a great deal of effort in recreating the look of the Norwegian camp from Carpenter’s film and explaining how the camp ended up as it did right down to an axe embedded in a wall. Unfortunately, it seems like all that care and attention was thrown out of the window when it came to the script.


Hollywood, you need to value writers and storytellers. They’re the people that link the flashy CGI explosions and fx together in a way that makes sense to people with more than a two-minute attention span.


[Spoiler Alert!] The tooth-filling test is a nice idea, but it’s crying out to be subverted later in the film. Even if the Thing cannot duplicate inorganic material (but apparently always has a spare set of clothes on hand. Either that or it somehow managed to eat and copy Joel Edgerton’s character without shredding his woollies), it should be smart and amorphous enough to realise it needs to put the earrings and tooth fillings back in afterwards to beat the imperfect test.

The main strength of the Thing concept is no one knows who a Thing is. This would have been a perfect opportunity to ramp up the tension as the audience has their safe conclusions on who is or isn’t a Thing rudely shredded. In John W. Campbell’s original Who Goes There?, characters make an initial assumption a person attacking a Thing couldn’t be a Thing as a Thing wouldn’t attack another Thing. They’re wrong.

This also highlights John Carpenter’s genius. His 1982 The Thing is a much more faithful adaptation of Who Goes There? than the 1951 film. Most of his characters have the same names as in the book. Now, considering the main strength of the concept is no one knows who’s a Thing, this could be a serious drawback. If he follows the source material too closely, anyone familiar with the original is going to know all the twists.

So what does Carpenter (or Bill Lancaster, the man responsible for the screenplay) do, he shuffles the characters around. This is best exemplified in the blood test set piece, where Kurt Russell’s MacReady has the rest of the crew tied to a bench as he tries to establish who’s a Thing. MacReady’s sure it’s the station commander Garry, the audience thinks it’s probably Garry, anyone who’s read the book knows damn well it’s Garry. So they sit there with a smug smile on their face as the film attempts to build tension.

Windows…MacReady…Copper…Clark…Palmer…What The Fuck!

Take that Mr Smug, I-Know-The-Original Man. They’re even more blind-sided than the regular viewer!

The remake should have aimed for that spirit. Instead it retreads the set pieces from the 1982 version and plays them straight, failing to realise that completely diminishes their effectiveness. If you only watch American films and love monster movies, these are very lean times indeed as Hollywood seems to have forgotten or lost the people who knew how to make horror click.

One day I will write my pornified homage to The Thing. I already have the rules for the monster sketched out in my head. It will work and there will be rational explanations for the gratuitous amounts of sex. If you thought "The Orgy of the Pink Flesh" was squicky…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Night of the (Predictable) Demons

Two reasons to see Night of the Demons:

Ugh. Sorry. I don’t know what came over me there. The sixties maybe. Or a strong urge to put on a flat cap and take t’whippet for a walk.

Anyway. The attractive lady is Bobbi Sue Luther, who also happens to be the face of St. Pauli Girl beer. Not that I make a habit of stalking attractive scream queen’s Wikipedia pages or anything. Um…

Sadly, the film is rather disappointing. No fault of the gorgeous Ms Luther. It's all a bit too predictable—place a cast of attractive plastic people in a spooky house and kill them off in gory fashion over the course of ninety minutes or so. Nothing new there. Bobbie Sue Luther plays the one-who-drinks-too-much-and-must-die; Diora Baird plays her friend, the slutty-one-who-has-sex-and-must-die; and Monica Keena rounds out the trio as the goody-two-shoes-who-obviously-survives.

*gnashes teeth at predictable, crude, clunking horror movie morality*

There’s an interesting scene that hints at what the movie could have been. Diora Baird’s character, fresh after being converted to demonhood, pushes a lipstick into her breast, which then travels down her body and exits in a puddle of blood presumably from her intimate nether regions. It’s kinky and perverse and it would have been a far more interesting film if the makers had taken that theme of demonic perversity and dialled it up to eleven. Instead the film falls back onto the safe old clichés of snarling, fright-show mask demons jumping out of the darkness and pulling out their victim’s entrails. It’s fun, but it’s been done before and much better in countless other horror films.

I’ve been disappointed with most of the spate of recent horror remakes. Compared to the inventiveness and craziness shown in some of the recent Japanese gore movies, the US films look staid and straitjacketed. Where’s the sense of fun that was around back in the days when Sam Raimi was running around with a camera strapped to a plank?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eihi Shiina Double Bill, Part Two: Tokyo Gore Police

If you thought the manga/anime coming out of Japan was crazy...

Tokyo Gore Police. To use the cliché: it's exactly what it says on the tin.

The film is directed by legendary gore-fx master, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and, exactly as the name suggests, is incredibly gory. This is gore taken up to eleven. People grow chainsaws and cannons out of their open wounds, there's a duel featuring a quadruple amputee with blades on each stump, a girl with crocodile jaws in place of her nether regions, and gallons and gallons of fake blood. At one point a character even uses the blood spraying from his severed legs as a jet pack. It's that crazy.

It's what I love about Japanese films. They aren't afraid to leap out of the box and take off in weird directions to shock and surprise the audience. Sure, some might think the whole thing comes across as silly and nonsensical, but who cares when it's an excuse to come up with scenes of such audacious bizarreness they leave the viewer's jaw on the floor at the whole 'WTF' of it all.

Oh, and Eihi Shiina is lovely and serene throughout.

Once again, I realise I have much further to go.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eihi Shiina Double Bill, Part One: Audition

Does anyone else think Eihi Shiina is just adorably cute in this scene (from Takashi Miike's 1999 film Audition)?

(In case the name Takashi Miike hasn't already set alarm bells ringing, I should, before you hit the play button, mention Audition is a notorious Japanese horror film. You have been warned...)

(... I still think she's lovely.)

No? I guess it's just me then.