Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wrapping up the Reimagining

So here we are, one month and ten horror reimaginings later and what have we learned? In the simplest of statements:

Most of these films are not worth your time, I watched them so you don't have to.

I guess if I had to rank then in order of watchability it would go as follows

Reimaginings that I would consider good movies
1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
2. Fright Night (2011)
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Reimaginings that may appeal to horror fans
4. Halloween (2007)
5. Last House on the Left (2009)
6. The Thing (2011)
7. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Reimaginings that are not worth your time
8. Prom Night (2008)
9. Friday the 13th (2009)
10. Halloween II (2009)

In the end, can I say watching these films was worth my time? I guess. It gave me lots to talk to all of you about, and now when I hear a thirteen-year-old explain to me how awesome that new Friday the 13th film was, I can shake my head and smile.

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween II (2009)

So we end this month returning to the series where we began, Halloween. I saw the sequel to the original Halloween on the same night, kind of a marathon and let me tell you, Halloween II (1981) was shocking, brutal, cringe-worthy and a satisfying ending to the story of Michael Myers. The story takes place in a hospital on the same evening as the original and once again Michael is after young Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis) only this time most of the action takes place in a hospital, rather that in a suburban neighbourhood.

The 2009 reimagined sequel, is sort of both a sequel to a reimagining of the 1978 classic as well as a partial reimagining of the 1981 original sequel. The first twenty minutes of the film play out just like the original sequel; Laurie is taken to a hospital, Michael isn’t nearly as dead as we thought he was and some pretty horrific deaths occur (for those who don’t appreciate gross-out killings, stay with the 1978 classic, as the ’81 sequel gets pretty gruesome). Then it all turns out to be a dream sequence and we find that two years have gone by since the original film.

This is pretty much where the film starts to slide into really bad movie territory.

All right, here are the two good things about the film:
1) Brad Dourif plays Sheriff Lee Brackett in a performance that is far too good for this film – seriously, the character is a great dad in a horrible situation and the acting is some of the best I’ve seen in horror films of the last few years.
2) The strange imagery of Michael’s mother and a white horse (while terribly over-played) is pretty striking and an interesting contrast to the violence of the murder scenes.

Rather than do a list of the bad (and believe me, it would be quite a list), I’ll just try to stick with the broad strokes. First of all Laurie is pretty much entirely unsympathetic in the film – I understand that she has been through a traumatic experience but she spends the entire film being a jerk to the kind family who has taken her in and pretty whiny and annoying to everyone else. She is damaged, but honestly, if she doesn’t have anything else going for her it’s hard for the audience to invest in her emotionally. Next, we are once again following Michael about as he goes on a killing spree and we spend a lot of time hearing him grunt as he stabs people, really animalistic grunts which did a fine job of reminding me exactly how creepy the original Michael Myers was due to the fact that he didn’t make a sound. Finally Dr. Loomis (played again by Malcolm MacDowell) is entirely unsympathetic, having made a fast buck on the pain Michael’s original rampage caused by writing a true crime book about the killings and getting some fame out of the deal (he does appear on a late night show with Weird Al Yankovic, who plays himself, in one of the stranger cameos I’ve come across in horror) but basically they have taken one of the most kind-hearted characters in slasher history and made him a total jerk, and I can’t even say why, he ends up doing the same thing the original character would have, and his sub-plot involving his book seems like unnecessary padding.

This film, although not my least favourite (hello Prom Night) was definitely one of the weakest of the last month and a bit of a taint on the franchise.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Some stories are pretty classic, Romeo and Juliet for example has been re-told many times, having the original performed as stage plays, radio plays, and eventually adapted as various films and television series (some better than others), but each new adaptation brings something different to the story.

Then there are other stories which, although classic, don’t have a lot of differences in the adaptations. The Virgin Spring(1960) is based on a medieval Swedish ballad where a man’s daughters are killed and he takes his revenge on the killers. In the original ballad the killers are also the fathers children, whom he sent away at a young age. In the 1960 film, the killers are goat herders who rape and murder the daughter of a local family, who, after being discovered by the parents are in turn murdered as well. The father (powerfully played by Max von Sydow) suffers a crisis of faith over the issue and resolved to build a church with his own bare hands to make up for the crime he feels he must do for his murdered daughter.

In 1972 Wes Craven (of Nightmare of Elm Street fame), made Last House on the Left, which in my opinion is one of the most harrowing film experiences I’ve ever sat through. The film follows two girls who get mixed up with a very bad crew of people who rape and murder them both. The villains then unknowingly stay at the home of the parents where they are discovered for who they are and the parents brutally murder the killers. I probably watched this film at around the age of fourteen and although I couldn’t stop watching once I had started (the film pulls you in very quickly), It is not a film I ever need to see again.

What I did see however was the 2009 remake. In this version all of the same events happen (although the death of the daughter’s friend isn’t nearly as graphic as it was in the 1972 version – thank goodness), the villains brutalize these girls, end up staying at the parent’s home and after being discovered are brutally killed. The difference between this version and the 70’s version came down to (for me) the fact that I recognized most of the actors in the film from other movies. The acting is much better than I expect from horror films in general (especially that of the lead villain, played by Garret Dillahunt and the daughter played by Sara Paxton) and the film does a great job of setting up a foreboding atmosphere, but honestly, from the point of view of a parent, watching the girl who played the mermaid from the family film Aquamarine getting raped and nearly murdered was an awful experience. I’m not saying that actors shouldn’t expand their work into different areas, I’m just saying it was really rough.

The trick of this type of film is to show the villains doing such horrible things that when the tables are turned on them the audience will cheer for the extremely bloody deaths delivered to these killers. The film actually does a clever trick in that it lets the main villain play the role of the “Final Girl” in a limited fashion, having him come upon the bodies of his friends and being hunted down by people who wish to kill him.

The main difference in the 2009 film is to keep the daughter alive. Although raped and shot by the villains, she manages to get home and her parents do double duty, nursing her back to health while brutally murdering her would-be killers. As a thriller the film is quite good, but the graphic nature of the subject matter was definitely too much for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

In media studies there is a term called Intertextuality, which basically means that other bodies of work (or indeed the personal lives) of the directors, writers, and actors in a movie or television show can have positive effects on the finished project for the viewers. Examples include having someone play strongly against type – John Wayne playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit worked partially because the audience expected him to always play the obvious good guy in every western, whereas his character in that film was a burnt out drunk. On its own the film would have worked fine, but with Wayne’s career in westerns behind it, it made for a new look at a classic star in his genre of choice.

I bring this up because the reimagining of The Hills Have Eyes, which came out in 2006 has not one, but two examples of Intertextuality. First off, the film has two stars I’m pretty familiar with in other venues. Emilie de Ravin (famous to most as Claire from Lost) and Dan Byrd (Travis from Cougar Town) star as the two teens on the terrible road trip that leads through some pretty horrible hills. Secondly, and this one was a little trickier to spot; Doug, the husband of the teens older sister is definitely dressed and made up to look like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs a 1971 thriller about a quiet man pushed too far and his violent vengeance against his wrongdoers (hmmm… I wondered as I first noticed how he was dressed – I wonder if this film will play out in a similar way?)

I probably watched the original film when I was in early junior high (grade seven or eight) and at the time, it seemed shocking and really creepy. A family on vacation get into trouble when their car is wrecked (later shown to have been done on purpose) and they are set on by a family of cannibals and thieves. At the time I found the violence shocking and the back story of the horrible family seemed pretty engrossing as well. It wasn’t necessarily what I would call a horror classic, but it was definitely worth a watch.

The remake (again sorry, I assumed it was a reimagining, but within 30 minutes of the run-time it became very obvious this was pretty much a remake) follows roughly the same story; same family, same setup, but with a few changes: 1) The cannibal family is the descendants of miners who were mutated due to atomic testing, 2) There is very little back story given other than a vague “Your government did this to us so you deserve to die, and 3) The main villain is not the patriarch (father) of the family, but instead a giant mutant son, who, although pretty scary, has no lines and therefore loses some of the menace of the original.

As far as a thriller/horror goes, however, the film was quite good. You really hope the family will escape this horrible set up and when the tables are finally turned on the mutants you are definitely cheering for their demise. I didn’t end up keeping the DVD copy I had, but it was effective and would be worth a watch as a rental.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Prom Night (2008)

All right, Prom Night, the 1980 horror film starring Canadian Leslie Nielson (of Police Squad fame) and Jamie Lee Curtis (star of the original Halloween), was a pretty good B-movie. The story involved the guilt of four teens who, as pre-teens, were involved in the death of another kid (bullying mixed with negligence mixed with being stupid kids), who at their high school prom end up getting purnished... WITH MURDER!!!

The new Prom Night was, ummm… pretty much the worst 88 minutes I’ve spent this month. Honestly, I should have just slept in (I’ve been watching these movies early in the morning before the rest of my family gets up), or perhaps done some cleaning, or maybe even having finally gotten around to figuring out how to play Puerto Rico.

But for all of you, I decided to give the movie a good look.So here goes the premise – a couple years back a creepy high school teacher got obsessed with one of his female students and one night he murdered her family. Now, just as she’s getting ready for her prom night, you-know-who has escaped from the insane asylum and his heading her way. Inevitably, lots of her friends get killed.

Honestly, the closest modern horror film I’ve seen with the same premise is the 1997 film I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was actually based on a YA (Young Adult) novel of the same name.

Here were my problems with this new film:

1) The kids who spend the film dying haven’t actually done anything wrong. Usually in these types of film they use drugs, steal, are rude to adults or are busy having sex with each other. These kids are all pretty decent kids, and thus their dying seems jarring and wrong. Also there is a sub-plot involving a girl who is mean to the main character's best friend (they are both running for Prom Queen) and in the end – evil girl loses the election. That’s pretty much it, she lives while all the nice kids get killed.

2) The deaths are all PG rated stabbings – not very creative and when the bodies are found afterwards, although there is blood on their clothes there aren’t actually and tears or slices in the material, meaning that the killer must have had a magic knife.

3) The best actors in the film, who played two cops hoping to save the main character, were played by Idris Elba and James Ransone – both actors from the superb HBO series The Wire, and a constant reminder that I should get around to watching that series for a third time.

4) The back story, in which a high school teacher falls for one of his students and ends up dangerously, murderously obsessed with her, would clearly have made a better (and significantly creepier) movie than this film.

5) Finally, while watching the behind the scenes feature (and yes, I’ve watched them for all these movies. It’s all for you, my dear readers) the director expresses that the film is in fact not a reimagining, or even a remake, but instead an entirely new story which happens to share the same title.

Or in other words, a total waste of my time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Unlike the other films I’ve been working on this month, I didn’t actually see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) until I was about 25 years old. Basically, I had heard so many things about the film growing up that the idea of watching the actual movie scared me too much. It wasn’t until I got into the study of folklore that I decided to watch the film.

The movie itself follows the tragic tale of five kids who, after visiting the graves of the grandparents of two of the party, decide to explore the area looking for an old farmhouse that belonged to the deceased grandparents. Horrible, chainsaw involved events follow. The movie was based partly on real life serial killer Ed Gein (who was also the basis for Psycho and Silence of the Lambs), and involved a family of killer cannibals who make short work of these five kids, except for the Final Girl, Sally. Two of the clever parts of the original film are the opening narration, which gave the film a documentary feel, and the way the film plays with classic folklore and urban legends.

All right – I promise this will be my last educational segment this month, but you may need to know, so here goes:

Learning with Bookmonkey!
Lesson 2 - Urban Legends

Urban Legends are (usually) horror-based examples of modern folklore in which certain moral behaviours are described along with extreme punishments for ignoring these behaviours. Examples include people eating a Kentucky-Fried Rat when their mother has recently began a job outside of the home and no longer prepares home cooked meals, or the murder of young couples (or at least the boys) when they park their cars in out-of-the-way locations for making out. In terms of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) the crime that the protagonists commit one of the most basic crimes in classic folklore – that is they “stray off the path;” by searching an un-mapped area of Texas to look for the old home of Sally Hardesty’s grandparents, the kids involved are welcoming disaster. A more in-depth study of Urban legends can be examined in Jan Harold Brunvand’s seminal book on Urban Legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (W.W. Norton and Company, 1981)

As I only watched this film as an adult, I was able to view it a little more critically than the others, and although it didn’t have a major effect on my love of horror films, I was able to appreciate it for what it was, and view the reimagining with an eye for what might change.

The 2003 reimagining is the film responsible for the recent trend of reimagining classic horror – that is, rather than simply remaking the film, attempting to change an aspect of the basic concept, creating an entirely new story. With the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the big change is that of the killer family. The film itself takes place in the same time period (1970s), location (rural Texas), and still has the same villain (Leatherface), and even the same opening narrator. The differences included: 1) making the kids a little more guilty in the classic horror sense – the guys in the van are attempting to transport marijuana so that they can sell it in their home town, 2) the killer family is no longer cannibalistic, and in fact, mostly live ordinary lives around the town, keeping Leatherface safe as a sort kid-brother to the town. 3) there is significantly more use of a chainsaw than in the original.

Like with many of the other reimaginings, we are given more back story in which sympathies are given towards the killer, but as he’s going around killing a bunch of kids, there is only so much sympathy we can give him. The leads all do a good job of being scared victims and the film’s Final Girl, Erin (played by Jessica Biel) is actually a really good example of the classic Final Girl, being an outsider to her friends, coming across all of their bodies and eventually taking a much more active role in the death of the villain.

In the end it wasn’t a movie I would own, but it worked. I can definitely see why it would end up leading to a similar trend in horror movies over the next decade.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Full disclosure here – I did a review of this film back when it came out in August (check it out here), but as this month I’m moving back and forth through my experiences with the originals and the reimaginings, I feel I’ve got enough to say about the title for this post.

The original Fright Night was one of those rare horror comedies I loved as a kid – they had a few laughs, some great scares and were great “gateway” films for newcomers who might not necessarily like horror. Fright Night was kind of a double treat, as it worked great for newcomers but was filled with horror movie references for the long-time fans of the genre.

The original film involved a kid named Charlie Brewster, who over the course of the movie discovers that his neighbour Jerry is a vampire. The problem? No one believes him, not his friends, family or anyone else. Eventually he goes to a late night cable TV horror host, Peter Vincent (named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price and played amazingly by Roddy MacDowell) to help him defeat the creature before its too late. The movie mixed comedy and horror incredibly well, including one of my favourite interactions in horror movie history:

Charlie enters his living room, sees Jerry (the vampire) and is obviously startled

Charlie's Mom: Charlie, this is our next door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge

Jerry: Hello Charlie (approaches Charlie and offers his hand)

Charlie's Mom: Well Charlie, shake hands

Charlie: (Obviously shocked) What's he doing here?

Charlie's Mom: I Invited him over for a drink.

Charlie: You what!?!

Charlie's Mom: I invited him over, why?

Jerry: What's the matter Charlie? Afraid I'd never come over without being invited first?

(Jerry and Charlie's mom laugh)

Jerry: You're right, you're quite right, of course now that I've been made welcome I'll probably drop by quite a bit. In fact, any time I feel like it. (Smiling at Charlie's Mom) With your mother's kind permission, of course.

Charlie's Mom: Oh Jerry, any time.

The reimagining of the film made a few significant changes to the story: 1) The story is clearly set in a new suburban development in Las Vegas, rather than a suburb in “Anytown, USA”, 2) Jerry (the vampire) is now played by a younger actor (Colin Farrell), who plays up the dark and sexy aspect, 3) Peter Vincent is now a stage magician, rather than a late night horror host (probably because those don’t really exist anymore) and his look is largely modelled after Criss Angel, 4) The film focuses more on action and atmosphere, rather than the comedic aspects of the original.

In the end I really enjoyed the reimagining. It was a lot of fun, had a nice cameo for fans of the original and although the humour is toned down, it still functions well as a gateway film from mainstream to horror.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Thing (2011)

Alright, I'll admit it - The Thing, which I just saw an advanced screening of last night is not technically a remimagining. It is however a prequel of a remake - which I don't think has a specific classification... The only other example of this kind of film is The Scorpion King (2002) which was a prequel to the recent Mummy Films, which themselves were remakes of the 1932 Universal horror film The Mummy.

So doing my prep work to see the movie involved seeing the original 1982 John Carpenter film, and as that movie was also a remake, I also checked out The Thing from another World (1951) for good measure.

I probably saw my original (1982) The Thing when I was about 12 or 13, and it creeped me right out of my living room more than once. The remote location, the terrifying creature effects and the affective score by Ennio Morricone gave the film a really great vibe and it was one of the first John Carpenter movies I ever saw (the second was Prince of Darkness, which sits comfortably in my top five horror films of all time.)

The prequel, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who I loved both here and in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) does a really great of maintaining that really creepy vibe the 1982 film set up (which to be fair borrowed a lot from the 1951 original - totally worth the watch as well), and although I had a few problems with it - they were mostly in the special effects department. The acting was good, the story (which was basically a connect-the-dots type story for anyone who saw the Carpenter film) was creepy and I especially liked how the film worked well within its constraints: having to be set in a Norwegian station, ending with a helicopter chasing a dog and showing how the base is destroyed before Kurt Russell and crew check it out in the 1982 film.

The movie had a lot of great shocks and the make-up based effects were quite good - I felt the creatures lost a little of there wow factor when the CG became too obvious, but overall a fun flick. I don't know if I would own it on DVD, but it might be fun to have a marathon with the two films some night to see if they would work in a back-to-back set up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

In my own opinion, the best of the big three slasher series I watched growing up was the Nightmare on Elm Street series. As all kids do I tried to figure out ways to avoid the horrible killers from the movies I watched. Here were a number of my solutions
Bookmonkey’s tips to avoiding the killers

1) Don’t be involved in a childhood event involving the death of a kid with a troubled sibling/parent/babysitter (Prom Night)

2) Don’t go to summer camp (Friday the 13th)

3) Don’t babysit (Halloween)

4) Don’t be a jerk to the quiet girl in class (Carrie)

5) Don’t be suspiciously nice to the quiet girl in class (Carrie)

In the case of Freddy Krueger (the villain from the Elm Street series), your only option is as follows.

Don’t Fall Asleep.

The genius of the Elm Street movies was pretty simple – as everyone sleeps, and everyone dreams, what if the killer only existed in dreams. The films worked on both the real world level, where the kids worked desperately to stay awake and in a bizarre dream world level, where virtually nothing could save them once they were asleep. The original series has both strong and week entries (the best are parts 1 and 3 followed by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), and definitely rank among some of my favourite scary films.

Then in 2009 I started seeing trailers for the reimagining. The movie looked sleek, and the tone reflected the creepy and frightening look of the original film. Honestly the main reason I didn’t check it out in theatres was the hiring of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. I was a traditionalist and considering the character requires total body makeup I wasn’t sure why they wouldn’t hire my Freddy, Robert Englund for the newest film.

But, after checking out both reimaginings of Halloween and Friday the 13th, I decided to check out the newest version of Nightmare.

The big change in the reimagining? There is a significant question of whether or not Freddy was innocent, and therefore justified in his killings. The film shows us in dream flashbacks the mob mentality of the people who originally killed him (it is their now-teenaged children who Freddy targets) and asks the question, what if he was innocent?

Although I didn’t get the same feeling of respect for the source material that I got withHalloween, the film does look very good, the actors are well cast (and yes that includes Jackie Earle Haley – who really creeped me out), and the idea of micro-sleep, wherein the characters begin to have waking dreams as they hit massive levels of sleep deprivation, were pretty cool. My biggest problems involved the special effects, virtually everything was done with computer animation, and it simply didn’t posses the same level of reality that the stop-motion effects of the original series had.

Although I did purchase the film to check it out, I didn’t keep it, instead I traded it in for a boxed set of the first four films in the original series. Oh yeah, and I bookmarked the music video for Dokken’s Dream Warriors (hands down the coolest tune out of a horror film I’ve ever come across – sorry Cry, little Sister)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Friday the 13th (2009)

Three quick things about me and the original Friday the 13th series:

1) I definitely watched them all by the time I was thirteen (which meant parts one through eight at the time) as I watched them all as part of a Friday the 13th Marathon I enjoyed with my childhood friends Jason and Ryan.

2) I am also very sure I did not initially watch them in order, as my earliest memories with the series involve a young Corey Feldman in part 4 (who was amazing by the way) as Tommy Jarvis who defeats Jason with some pretty amazing psychological reasoning (which is pretty impressive, considering Jason was basically a zombie).

3) The series was basically about an unstoppable killer stalking teens who hung around a haunted campground and got undressed a lot (hey! I had simple tastes as a young man).

Honestly, out of all of the horror films of my childhood, these are the weakest, and although I did spend a lot of time playing the awful 8-Bit Nintendo game, I can’t really recommend the series to anyone with any better movies to watch. As a kid they were a rite of passage, but honestly, there are better, scarier, and more thought-provoking films you could spend your time with these days.

In 2009 I saw my first trailer for the new reimagining of Friday the 13th, and honestly, the trailer looked pretty good – not good enough to go to the theatres and see the film, but I will admit that it was this film that got me thinking about doing a close look at the phenomenon of reimagining in horror films.

So let’s get into the reimagining. The key differences? Well, there are two: First of all, unlike any of the other films I’ve looked at, this movie actually mushes the first three original films together into one film, Secondly, it attempts to show Jason (the killer) as a deranged mountain man, who has tunnels criss-crossing the old camp, which explain how he can get everywhere so quickly.The movie has the longest opening I’ve ever seen before the title card (27 minutes), and follows two stories, one about a young man (Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki) searching for his missing sister, and the other about a group of kids coming to hang out a summer cabin owned by a rich friend’s family. The rich jerk, Trent Demarco (and yes, in the strangest crossover I’ve ever come across this is supposed to be the same jerk character who menaced the lead in Transformers) brings along a bunch of friends (victims) for the fun including his girlfriend Jenna (played nicely by Danielle Panabaker) who is clearly set up as the film’s Final Girl.

Okay, although there is only a little bit, I’m going to have to get a little educational in my review of the reimaging of Friday the 13th.

Learning with Bookmonkey!

Lesson 1 – The Final Girl

In horror films, specifically slasher films, one of the key characters is known as The Final Girl. This girl tends to be the main character, a little tomboyish (to the point of being a bit of an outcast) and usually stays away from drugs, drink and (usually) the fellows. Her job throughout the film is to notice the strange and creepy things the killer leaves behind, get chased by the killer and discover her friend's bodies in the final act, and finally grab some sort of (usually phallic) weapon and defeat the killer. Examples include Laurie Strode inHalloween, Nancy Thompson is A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sidney Prescott in Scream. The term was coined by Carol J. Clover in her wonderful book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton University Press, 1992).

Now in any sane production of a horror film, the young man and the final girl will work together (hopefully) rescue the missing sister and escape the horrible killer after he has massacred all of the rich guys friends. This movie however, goes in a slightly different direction – yes all of the friends are killed, as is a local (which is strange as I assume the local populace only puts up with Jason as he limits his killing to outsiders), but after the young man finds his sister, the final girl is killed in an incredibly anti-climactic way.

In my own view, horror films – and especially the slasher sub-genre - have an incredibly simple structure, allowing the audience to get all of its thrills and chills, and playing by the rules. In this film, the girl clearly set up as the protagonist (she stays away from drugs, doesn’t sleep with her jerky boyfriend, and believes the young man about his missing sister when no one else will) is killed out of hand and for no good reason – just a quick shock. Sorry movie, but you have to respect the genre you exist in if you want the audience to respect you.

This movie was pretty awful – it wasn’t the worst of these reimaginings, and even though I’m not a big fan (or even a mild fan) of the source material, I do feel that the originals were really treated shabbily here. The film does stand as a good example of how not to make a slasher film though, so I guess it has some mild educational value.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halloween (2007)

The next three films we’ll be looking at, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street comprise the big three series I grew up watching as a child, and honestly, even though the quality on virtually every one of the series based on these films dropped per movie (except for the Elm Street films, which moved back and forth in terms of quality from creepy to forgettable), I still view these three original films as a major part of what got me into horror films in the first place.

Halloween (1979) is pretty much, in my opinion, one of the best horror films ever made. Until this film came out, horror was something that happened in past times, far off castles or (in the case of Night of the Living Dead) at least a remote farm house. Horror was something that happened somewhere else, but Halloween changed everything. The film takes place in Haddonfield, IL, a small suburban town that looked a heck of a lot like my hometown, and the main character Laurie was a regular looking kid. The killer appears in the background of the film at first and no one believes that anything as horrible as this man could possibly reach them in the safety of their own homes. The acting is great, the story is chilling, and honestly, for the squeamish, the violence is not that gory (that does changes in the sequel however).

Also the theme song is just about the creepiest tune I’ve ever come across.

Anyway, in 2007 it was reimagined by musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie and at the time I basically thought – why on earth would you ruin such a great film with an MTV-style treatment. The original is great, just leave it alone.

But for you, my dear readers, I decided to check out these recent reimaginings earlier this year and here is how the film stacks up.

The key to the reimagining of Halloween is that the film focuses on the killer (Michael) rather than the victim (Laurie). We are given an extremely detailed back story for our killer, including his time in an insane asylum, and the film is almost halfway over before we even meet our leading lady. Although it is an interesting way to focus the story, by making Michael more sympathetic and barely developing the characters of Laurie and her friends, the killings seem less about the terror the kids feel and more about the killer himself.

I will say, however, that I quite liked the acting on the part of Scout Taylor-Compton (Lauire), and Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Loomis), although the filmmaker made a bizarre choice by removing Dr. Loomis as a sympathetic character an making him more focused on what fame Michael can bring him.

Also, and hopefully this will carry through to the sequel (I’m waiting to watch it later this week), the film very clearly shows the affection that Rob Zombie has for the source material. Even though some of the choices he made in the film were strange to me, there is no question throughout the film that he really loved the original and did his best to do it justice.

Although I didn’t like it as much as I did the Dawn of the Dead remake, it was worth the watch (for fans of the original), and creates a consistently creepy feel throughout the entire film.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

A Quick note: I’ll be writing these reviews in the order I originally saw the remakes.

My love affair with zombie movies goes back to the nightmares I got from watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Released in December of 1983, I would have first seen this video on the Canadian music video show, Video Hits at about the age of seven. The story within a story concept for the video got me pretty deeply invested with our main character (who is never named), so when suddenly Michael turns into a zombie and dances/attacks her it freaked me out.

The original Night of the Living Dead probably came into my young life around the age of ten or eleven (the end of Elementary School came at about the same time as our first VCR, so suddenly I had access to local video stores and therefore scary films). Night of the Living Dead blew me away the first time I saw it – playing with all the rules I thought horror films had to follow and leading to a young interest in monster films and stories overall.

I would have seen Dawn of the Dead in Junior High school (probably grade seven), and the idea of escaping from zombies by hiding in a mall seemed incredibly smart to me, even though it doesn’t work out that well for most of the people in the film.

Fast forward to 2004, I’m 28 years old, a parent of two and suddenly I am faced with a strange question… Should I bother going to see a remake of a film I saw almost half my lifetime ago? I mean, what possible differences could there be? In the end I saw it as a matinee on a Saturday or Sunday, due to either a lack of options or an interest in seeing how the source material would be adapted.

The biggest difference in this reimagining of the classic, the zombies no longer walk, they run.

At the time, this seemed like such a strange thing for them to do, as I was always most scared of the slow-moving, but ultimately unstoppable zombies from my childhood films. The movie looks pretty slick, has a great cast (stand outs for me include Sarah Polley (of Splice), Mekhi Phifer (of er and Torchwood: Miracle Day), and Ty Burrell (of Modern Family) and the effects (both special and dramatic) are pretty darn effective. Although running zombies are not really my thing, they are pretty freaky antagonists in this film.

Does the movie actually do better than the original? No, the original set the standard for zombie siege films and was making social commentary as well. As far as a first film to be looking at for this month however? It’s a pretty decent horror film with lots of thrills and chills.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Reimagining of Bookmonkey

Day One: Remakes versus Reimaginings.

This month at the Wisdom of Bookmonkey we are going to be looking at a recent phenomena of popular genre films, the remimagining. Before I begin reviewing the various films however, it is important to separate what I'm talking about when I say remimagining.

For ages, horror has been a genre of remakes; as both a character and a story, Dracula has been remade so many times that it is virtually impossible to simply say your favourite film is Dracula. Do you mean the Bela Lugosi one? How about Christopher Lee?

Personally, I don't mind remakes - the genre has had remakes since the beginning and it is interesting to see a new productions take on a classic tale.

For me the trouble comes with a recent trend in horror of remaking all the ones I grew up with as a child. I'm okay with films from the '40s, '50s, and '60s being remade, but as soon as you start looking at films that came out in the '70s you start hitting the films of my childhood. (all right to be fair I was born in '76 but as I grew up watching horror films from my local video store in the early '80s, so I grew up watching them late at night at home on video).

In 2003 a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released to less than stellar reviews but had a lot of folks checking it out in theatres and so the trend was born - the b-grade horror films of my youth have become grist for the mill and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.

The thing about these newer films however, is that they are being billed as reimaginings, stories that take aspects of the original films but then try to tell stories of their own. Sometimes this works (not nearly as often as I would like) and sometimes it crashes into a waste of 90 minutes of my life, but for the next month we are going to visit almost a dozen of these films, and see how they stand up to the classics.

Welcome to...

The Reimagining of Bookmonkey.