Respectable Horror Sequels

Rotten Tomatoes have a cool feature on horror sequels. It’s a shame they only focus on second instalments, because I’d argue that Nightmare on Elm St Part 3 should be up there with Evil Dead II, and Day of the Dead deserves more praise than Dawn. Also Scream II has no place on any ‘best of’ list.

Ah, sequels. These days, they pop up everywhere — theaters, television, video store shelves — but once upon a time, they were viewed as an undignified exercise, suitable mainly for pulpy matinee flicks. Like horror movies, for instance — which is why, as Rob Zombie’s sequel to his Halloween reboot, the fittingly titled Halloween II, arrives in theaters this weekend, we decided now would be a great time to give the Total Recall treatment to some of the more noteworthy second installments in the history of good old-fashioned eye-coverin’, goose-pimplin’, edge-of-your-seat cinema. Pull the shades, dim the lights, and join us as we count down 10 of the most critically respected horror deuces a film fan could ask for!

I’m tired of violence in horror films

Flower1

Talk to a lot of people nowadays and they’ll tell you that a horror film isn’t worth the time or effort to be seen unless it has some “great gore” or “brutal kills”. Since I refuse to support Rob Zombie (who says liberals don’t have any principles?), I’ve had to read a lot of reviews in order to get a sense of what H2 is all about. Quite a few people have said that it’s crap…but at least it’s got angry bloody deaths! The new Final Destination movie, I would argue, exists only to show death scenes (when it decides to, some of the deaths aren’t even shown). There is no character development and no plot. It moves forward only to give the audience “what they want”: death upon death. The Saw sequels are no different.

I’ve been thinking about this issue of violence and horror for a few weeks now. It’s crossed my mind for a few months prior to that but it really started to crystallize for me during a recent discussion about Outpost Doom. A couple weekends back, Jeff, Deejay, Spooky, and myself watched the rough cut of OD. The goal was to find scenes that could be trimmed and get general feedback on possible improvements. Our friend and actor Jeremy was there to give an outside perspective. He believed there wasn’t enough blood and gore to keep the film interesting. That it was a lot of talking and that the “whodunnit” that is the central pillar of the film was something nobody would care about. So we all had, not really a debate, but a discussion on whether or not it would be a smart move to “punch up” Outpost Doom with more blood and guts. There are multiple places in the film where we could do a sort of flashback sequence showing stuff that happened during a few of the stories that the character tell. Long story short: some of us felt the film should stand as it is, others that it should appeal more to what horror fans “expect”. Jeff made a general analogy that I thought was good. Do you go with Death Proof or Planet Terror?  In DP, the violence is sporadic and not the main focus, whereas PT it’s all action and violence all the time. Granted, I’m in no way saying OD is in the same galaxy as DP, but the general idea is that Outpost Doom is far more Death Proof (in that it has lots of dialogue, sporadic violence, etc.) than it is Planet Terror. We made no definitive decision that weekend on what direction we would go, but as the director, it’s my responsibility to decide: and I’ve decided “No” on the extra violence.

Maybe I’m getting old and times are changing, but more and more I’ve grown to despise films and filmmakers who make the actual act of violence the central focus of their films. I’m not innocent in that. When we made The Grand Horror, that was the entire point. Sure, I felt I had the potential for a good story but we weren’t focused on telling that story. We just wanted to kill everybody as quickly as possible (or as slowly, it turns out). A large part of that had to do with the fact that we instantly decided to make a movie in a month and not a lot of planning went into anything. And of course, we had no idea what the fuck we were doing. Outpost Doom was different. I honestly put a lot of time into the script. I tried to make sure there were no loose ends. I tried to make sure that everything would “make sense” when someone went back to think about it. I sort of view Outpost Doom as my first real movie. Not that I don’t hold a special place in my heart for TGH, I’ll love that piece of shit until I die, just that OD is the first thing I’ve done that my “vision” has sort of been applied; where I’ve been allowed to do a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do. And because of this, as I was writing the script, I naturally drew upon my influences and the filmmakers that I most admire. People like Terence Fisher, Val Lewton, and James Whale. Even non-horror figures like Yasujiro Ozu (whose unique low angel-static camera style was in the back of my mind). The consequence to these influences was that violence is not the central pillar of the film. Story is.

I should state up front that I’m not someone advocating that violence in horror films be abolished, or anything. I enjoy a good death just as much as the next horror fan. But not when the act itself is the be all end all. Some of my favorite horror films of all time include The Thing, The Fly, and Re-Animator. All of these films are graphically violent in their own ways but never at the expense of the story. Rather, the violence works precisely because it feels natural. As a natural progression of the story, and thus a strong supporting element. It doesn’t feel as if the filmmaker said “Damn, this movie is getting a little slow, let’s throw in somebody getting their arms bitten off”. I like those movies, no doubt about it. But as I’ve gotten older and seen and studied more films, I’ve come to the realization that there is no talent in simply killing people or throwing as much T&A on screen as you can…if that’s your focus. To me, a film like Hostel is an example of a movie that is FX driven, not story driven. You don’t really care about anything in the film other than waiting to see the next torturous death sequence. To me there really is no difference between Hostel and any of the Guinea Pig entries other than making it Hollywood friendly with lots of pointless filler. With both films, your end game is the same: you just want to see somebody die. I don’t want to see Jeff Goldblum die in The Fly. I don’t want to see any of the castmembers in The Thing die. And I think that is the fundamental key to any good horror film and one that’s been lost on a new generation of horror filmmakers: You want to root for the characters to live.

That’s not to say that there can’t be a character or two that you want to die and that’s not to say that you can’t have some graphic violence. What I’m saying is that the majority of the characters in the film have to be strong enough that, on some level, you feel bad when they get offed. Steve and I were mentioning this when talking about Inglourious Basterds. The Basterds themselves weren’t especially “deep” an yet they were written in such a way that you were like “Dammit, Hugo just died?! That sucks, dude!”. On a basic, fundamental level, humans do not prefer to see other humans murdered and tortured. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of us would not be okay if we saw a stranger being raped and tortured in front of us. There is something inherently wrong with that. So when I see films that cater to nothing but violence I think: “This is fucking stupid”. Now we horror fans pride ourselves on being able to sit through the most atrocious brutality and violence our genre can offer. It’s a badge of honor to say you’ve sat through Slaughtered Vomit Dolls while eating a pizza. But this mentality that horror films need, or are almost culurally required, to have violent death scenes in order for them to be taken seriously is a cancer eating away at our genre. It’s already defined for many what our genre is and left unchecked it’ll be a long ass time before we see it go into remission. It even extends to the debate in recent years of so many horror fans dismissing a film that isn’t rated R (Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell the most recent example). This trend of  an “If it ain’t violent, I’m not seeing it” attitude is, simply, disgusting to me. People forget that violence for violence’s sake was done 45 years ago. His name was Hercshell Gordon Lewis. And there is a reason nobody considers him a good filmmaker. Because anyone with a functioning brain can realize that his films are nothing but FX reels, nothing more.

Where was I going with this? I’ve probably rambled on too long. Sorry if I meandered and this doesn’t make sense. I guess my ultimate point is that I’m a horror fan that doesn’t give a shit about violent deaths and are, in fact, tired of them. I feel like I’m in a minority with no voice, so I’m speaking up. There is a great 60+ years of horror cinema that was not dominated by the need to graphically show eyes being gauged out, limbs being dismembered, or genitalia being mutilated. To me, when I see this kind of junk in my horror films, I feel that the filmmaker is just incredibly immature and catering to the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t take talent to do that. True horror artistry is in being able to frighten and unsettle without having to toss gore or tits at me. It feels as if too many horror filmmakers nowadays are slaves to their idealic memories of the 70’s and 80’s. They remember some awesome machete to the face, grew up in a horror press that fetishized fx artists, and were ingrained with the notion that all characters have to be one-dimensional stereotypes. Fuck that. This is the 21st century. I’m ready for filmmakers to stop making movies as if they were immature 12 year olds who just found their dad’s porno stash. It’s time to get back to story driven horror. Not saying you can’t have a cool death, just saying that I better give a shit about the person dying.

How does this relate to Outpost Doom? I realize now that I wrote the script the way I did for a reason. I’m not going to add any more blood and guts to my movie. I’m proud of the script I wrote and the performances that everybody gave. The film will live or die on the merits that I wanted for it, not the merits that we think other people will want of it. If people think the characters suck and that nothing works in the film, so be it. At least I will have tried.  Do I hope people enjoy it? Sure. Will I give a shit if they fall asleep or think it’s boring? Nope. Because I made the kind of film that I like and wish I could see more of. And that’s not gonna be compromised because of the pressure or necessity of the moment. And if it doesn’t work, well, there’s always the next film. Practice makes perfect :)

Outpost Doom. A relatively non-violent horror film coming to a theatre soon. And proud of it :)

Video Nasties: The Burning (1981)

the burning

Be warned, spoilers ahead.

The Burning was one of the many films impounded in the UK in the early 1980s under the Obscene Publications Act, when the uncut version was “accidentally” released on VHS instead of the trimmed down version approved by the BBFC. The plot: kids at a summer camp play a prank on the creepy old caretaker, Cropsy. It goes horribly wrong, and he burns alive, leaving him horrifically scarred. Years later, he returns to seek revenge, stalking and preying upon unsuspecting precocious teens at a new summer camp.

Sound familiar? It should, because 1981’s The Burning began as a Friday 13th knock-off. One of the many films to imitate the famous slasher movie, before the genre began to fizzle out, The Burning was considered little more than a cheap cash-in. And it’s easy to see where the latter movie got most of its inspiration. However, I believe it surpasses its predecessor in every way.

For a start, Tom Savini really steps up the gore in this film. Despite the fact that the kills are limited to stabbings, slashings, and slicings with the same pair of garden shears, there are ample numbers of limbs lopped off and throats penetrated to satisfy. The titular burning scene is brutal to watch, and the climatic axe to the face is nothing short of spectacular. The infamous raft scene is also a sight for sore eyes.

The main thing that, for me, sets this apart from most other slashers, is the characters. At first glance these are cardboard cut outs, but they soon become fleshed out. The asshole jock is actually kind of sweet; the ‘funny’ guy is not only actually funny, but down to earth; the nerd is even brave and resourceful at the film’s end. There is no ‘slutty’ girl character, nor do we meet the traditional ‘final girl’ (and let’s face it, why would they hang out together anyway?)

At a certain point, when it is revealed there is a killer on the loose, the group fall about crying when they realise half of their friends have been killed. They build a raft and make it to safety. They call the police, and the police believe their story and actually show up without being dispatched by the traditionally much more wily killer. These factors added a sense of realism to the story which usually is left out, and hinders other movies. There was no point during The Burning where I shouted at the screen, “Don’t go in there!” or “You wouldn’t DO that!”

My only complaints about this movie would be the jarring score (which is a product of its time) and the Cropsy make up. Early in the movie we see a burnt arm, which looks fantastic, but when we later see his face, it looks rubbery and unrealistic. However it is only visible for a short time, and like the score, can be forgiven.

Like many of the other movies in this project of mine, this is not disturbing or ‘nasty’ in any way. But rather UNlike most of the films on the list, this was a joy to watch, and thoroughly recommend for any genre fans.

Razorjack by John Higgins

razorjack01I recently had the opportunity to read the collected edition of Razorjack by John Higgins. It’s a pretty wild book and I really dug it. I can’t quite describe the vibe I got as I read the first few pages. It sort of felt like I was a kid again and I had stayed up too late and some weird movie was showing on a cable channel. That’s meant to be a compliment in case that wasn’t coming across, ha.

The only criticism I have is that there’s too much going on across too few pages. I’d like to see these characters get a little more space to breathe. On the whole, though, it’s a blast. It feels like its own thing, from its own time. The collected edition from Com.x Comics looks great and has some fun extras in the back of the book.

razorjack02Synopsis: A sequence of events create a nexus that gives the death-bitch, Razorjack, and her twisted handmaidens the opportunity to finally break through into our world, the most important dimension of them all – the core dimension. Three college kids inadvertently create the opening from the alternate universe of the twist dimension and become a focus for the evil that is Razorjack. Maverick cops, Frame and Ross, are drawn into what could be the final battle between good and evil.

Created by John Higgins (artist on Judge Dredd (2000ad), The Hills Have Eyes (Fox Atomic), colorist on Watchmen and Killing Joke (DC Comics).

FD4 in 3D this weekend!

Update: Just saw FD4. It kinda sucks. :(

FD4 in 3D!

Okay, so maybe The Final Destination is going to suck. It’s entirely possible. I mean, even the title itself is bad. Call it “Final Destination 4” you flippin’ idiots. Sheesh.

Still, I have a soft spot for the franchise and I’ve seen each of the previous films in the theater. Part 1 set up the premise well and succeeded in keeping a mostly straight face. Part 2 went more over the top and I think it’s just fantastic. Part 3’s got Mary Winstead, ’nuff said.

My Bloody Valentine 2009 is the only other modern 3D movie I’ve seen in a theater. I thought MBV was fun, but it needed way more shit flying out of the screen. Hopefully FD4 will deliver the 3D goods.

New Phantasm?

Reggie in full effect!Wil from horroryearbook sent over this tidbit about some new Phantasm material that might be coming.

We just got word via the webmaster of PhantasmCommunity.com that a new Phantasm project has already been “lensed and is nearly finished.” DustinM, a very reliable source on the franchise, hinted that an announcement about a new Phantasm “episode(s)” is on its way. He said the new project is not Phantasm V, but described it as something “big.”

Just know that something is around the corner, something is coming and that it’s big. Phantasm V, it ain’t, but it’s big.

He also noted that Reggie Bannister himself, hinted about a future Phantasm project at a Monster Mania convention earlier this year. 

We all feel real good about 2009. Thirty year anniversary of the first picture. We sure would like to see some spheres flying around, that yellow shit flying fast and furious, and dwarves scittering and stuff like that. We’re going to do our best. So we’re trying to bring you some new stuff.

Sounds good to me!

The Argentum Coin of Julianus

julian According to legend, this pure silver coin was given to the Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus in a dream by Prince Vassago in exchange for his soul. The coin is said to be imbued with the power of discovery of hidden objects and can tell the future. As the story goes, Julianus used the coin only to discover a secret so terrible that he decided to hide it in a place no being would ever find in order to keep it from getting into the wrong hands. The thinking was, if the coin itself is hidden, then it can never be used to find itself.

Over the centuries, rumors of the coins existence have been found in various journals and off hand books. One story, dated from 1236, involves a man who supposedly found the coin as he was fishing near a small lake in the hills of Italy.  He was subsequently found torn to pieces; his body parts displayed upon a dead tree. Another tale, from the 1600’s comes from the journal of a man so obessessed with finding the coin that he attempted to conjure the Grand Marquis Andras only to be found by his neighbor, completely flayed, though his eyes continued to roll  in their sockets as if trying to escape what they had seen. Rumors stated that the coin was being held somewhere in the Abbot Library, though the Abbot family has consistently denied the allegations. Most recently, the coin was said to have been in the possession of a theater owner named Jack Lastch, but soon disappeared yet again after a series of grisly murders. What is known is that the Wakeworth family has long sought the coin and they continue to be suspicious of the Abbot’s, publicly questioning their claim to have no knowledge of its whereabouts. It is not clear as to the Wakeworth’s interest in the coin other than that they are avid collector’s of such items.

* Wakeworth *

Sorry, Rob.

h2_posterI’m thinking about my weekend (which is what I do with roughly 85% of my non-weekend hours) and I’ve decided that I just can’t make it to Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2. Now, of course, I suppose you’re saying, “You idiot, that movie looks like dreck and you shouldn’t have been considering it in the first place!”

Well, yeah: fair enough.

Still, I was tentatively planning to go check it out. From the trailers, it appears that any clinging remnants of the traditional Halloween vibe have been sandblasted away and Zombie has created a “bizzaro” Myersverse for his characters to occupy. On some level, yes, I’d like to see that. I’ve mentioned before that I liked House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. I dig what Zombie’s doing there. If a person looks at the first Halloween remake as a Rob Zombie film, instead of as a blasphemy… eh, maybe that’s impossible. What I mean is: I like Rob Zombie movies, generally speaking, and H2 definitely looks like “a Rob Zombie movie.”

Let me go off on a tangent, since I just used the word, “blasphemy.” Lots of people were disgusted by the 2007 remake of the original Halloween. Yes, I agree, Halloween ’78 is a classic of the genre. Indeed, in my unqualified opinion, I’d call it a great film even outside of genre constraints. But is it a great franchise? Really? Did Zombie’s remake do any more disrespect to the property than some of the later sequels like 6 & 8? Even parts 4 & 5, which I think are fine as slasher movies in and of themselves, are nothing special. I dunno, as time passes I find myself becoming less and less tolerant of “sacred cows.”

tfd_poster…but back to the matter at hand. Money’s tight and time is limited; I just can’t justify going out to a movie that I’m not truly interested in right now. I’m genuinely excited for The Final Destination (even if that is a dumbass title) so that will be my choice for this weekend. I’ll have to catch H2 on DVD, which won’t be so bad – the inevitable unrated DVD might have some extra boobs on it, after all.

It makes me miss the second-run theater we used to have here in Lincoln. A couple months from now, maybe there’d be a slow weekend and I could go see H2 for a couple bucks at the cheapo theater. Having that extra option between first-run and DVD is pretty great, so don’t take it for granted if you’ve got a second-run theater in your town.