Cinema Psycho

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Archive for October, 2006

They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara; Why Even Horror Fans Don’t Get Horror

Posted by CinemaPsycho on October 27, 2006

OK, it’s the end of October. Is anyone sick of horror films yet? Yeah, me neither.

I know, it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these deals. I’d love to tell you a grand tale of espionage and intrigue, but the truth is somewhat less compelling unfortunately. So mea culpa, and all that jazz, and let’s just get back to it. Oh, and as I write this, I’m suffering from a massive head cold, so if some of this seems rambling or unfocused, well, that should seem like business as usual. Okay ramblers, let’s get ramblin’.

As much as I enjoy horror films, and basically use the month of Halloween as an excuse to watch as many of them as possible, I have a confession to make: I don’t particularly care for most horror fans. Some of them are OK people; some of my best friends are horror fans, as they say. Individually, they are acceptable enough, but you put enough of them in a room and my first reaction is to want to run away screaming. Then again, you put enough of any kind of person in a room and my reaction would be the same, except for maybe teenage nymphomaniacs with oral fixations. Of course, I have yet to locate such a room, so it’s not something I have to worry about. Dream about, maybe.

Some folks find sci-fi fans insufferable, and admittedly it can be a chore to attempt a conversation with someone about the history of the Cardassians and their interactions with Klingons, and what Doctor Who would think about the whole thing. But at least those people are relatively harmless, unless you’re Rick Berman. Horror fans seem just as myopic and obsessed, but there’s a certain smugness to them at times that borders on religious fanaticism. It’s as if they’re in on some secret that they can’t wait to convert the ignorant masses to. The truth is, they’re just full of useless trivia about films and filmmakers that the majority of people on Earth either completely forgot about, or never gave two shits about in the first place. Which is fine, but let’s not pretend that knowing the entire filmography of Tom Savini means you’ve unlocked the secrets of the universe. Savini is a cool guy and all, but let’s get real. These are the kind of people who will try to convince you that Edward D. Wood Jr. was actually a misunderstood genius rather than an insane, cross-dressing hack.

As much as I despise mainstream critics like Richard “Dick” Roeper, who dismiss modern horror films as “splatter porn”, and don’t even get me started on Michael Medved (fuck that guy and the horse he rode in on), I have very little tolerance for the opposite extreme, the old-school fanatics who complain because every horror film that gets made isn’t a bloodbath/gorefest on the level of Dead Alive. They’re just as full of shit, frankly, for plenty of reasons. The difference is that no one ever calls them on it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sick to death of hearing these crybabies whine about “PG-13 horror” and “WB horror” (even though the WB doesn’t actually exist anymore, they still say it because all they ever do is watch old slasher films on their withering VHS copies and have no idea what’s going on). What I want to say to them is this: Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. It’s like those people who won’t listen to anything recorded after 1979, and claim that rock “died” when Led Zeppelin broke up. They’re just misguided and foolish, and they’re missing out on a lot of good shit. I always say that the past can be a nice place to visit; I just wouldn’t want to live there.

The truth is, most of the so-called “die hard” horror fans’ complaints are based on completely erroneous assumptions. The main one that really kills me is the belief that horror films would be better if only Hollywood went back to making the kind of films they grew up on. This selective nostalgia makes sense from an emotional standpoint, perhaps, but certainly not from a logical one.

How many times have you heard a horror fan say something like, “If only they would make hardcore fuckin’ flicks like the ones from the ‘70’s”? You have to wonder if these people even remember the Seventies, or if they only experienced it through a handful of generally acknowledged “classics”. Again, it’s this selective memory that provides an inaccurate view of things. How many people today think that the ‘70’s were nothing but badass hard rock and punk, thanks to “classic rock” radio, and have forgotten about disco and John Denver? It wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock’n’roll back then, no matter what Dazed and Confused and That ‘70’s Show would have us believe. There was just as much “mainstream crap” back then as there is now – we just don’t remember any of it. Yes, there were some genuine classics at that time, but the reason we remember films like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead so fondly is because they stood out from the pack, not because they represented it.

How many of these so-called fans recall “mainstream” ‘70’s horror films like Burnt Offerings, Audrey Rose, The Haunting of Julia, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, Alice, Sweet Alice and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane? Not that many, I’d wager. Yet these films were all pretty tame by any standards. They’d barely raise an eyebrow if watched today. Many of them featured teenagers in the leads, and guess what – some of them were even rated PG! What separates them from the current pack of PG-13 movies like The Grudge, Skeleton Key and Pulse? Ummm…not much, really. The same people who claim to adore “’70’s horror” would no doubt find them unforgivably lame. But these kinds of films were the majority at the time, while the “classics” were mainly cult items enjoyed by the grindhouse and drive-in crowds that gained in reputations and followings later on.

Another ridiculous notion brought up by the “old-school fans” is the idea that, back in the good old days, people made horror films purely for art’s sake, not for crass commerce like today’s hacks. Again, utter bullshit. Revered directors such as George Romero, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven have all said in interviews that they chose to make horror films as their first features essentially to make money and break into the business. That doesn’t make their films crap, does it? It just means they’re not exactly Ingmar Bergman. And let’s not forget that the majority of ‘70’s horror films were sold and marketed to the public as exploitation films, not as great works of art. The producers, investors and distributors all wanted to make a quick buck, like always. No one ever put money into a film hoping to lose it. Let’s get real. And I actually heard someone recently defend the glut of early ‘80’s slasher films as an example of “art over commerce”. Please. No one in their right mind could possibly think that those films weren’t simply product, could they? Come on, they were nothing but the results of greedy producers trying to cash in on the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Let’s not kid ourselves. Sure, some of them are fun to watch (I’m particularly fond of My Bloody Valentine and Happy Birthday to Me), but the idea that any of them are artistic triumphs is just, well, insane. They were products made to generate profits, pure and simple. Somebody has a hit, and everyone rushes to duplicate it. Same as it ever was.

The main thing that these guys don’t get is that the films they’re so nostalgic for were generally dismissed by many older horror fans of the time, the same way they dismiss the current horror films now. Back then, there was a sizable contingent of fans who felt that the onslaught of slasher films and explicit gore was ruining the genre. They preferred the “classy” horror of the old Universal and Hammer monster movies, which the kids of the late ‘70’s and early ’80’s didn’t give two shits about. And why would they – they didn’t grow up with that stuff, except for occasional airings on the Late Late Show. Unless they were really curious, which I would venture to guess that most of them weren’t. Let’s face it, most teens back then didn’t know Vincent Price from Fisher-Price. If they were aware of the previous films, they must have seemed incredibly old-fashioned compared to the likes of Evil Dead and Re-Animator.

Similarly, a new generation of kids is growing up on films like The Ring and The Grudge, and those films are “horror” to them. They don’t know names like George Romero or John Carpenter, and why would they? These names don’t mean anything to them. They’re not growing up on the same films we grew up on. They may know Wes Craven, mainly from the Scream movies and recent films like Red Eye, and maybe vaguely as the creator of Freddy Krueger. But Craven’s “classics” like Last House on the Left and the original The Hills Have Eyes are ancient history to them, just like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee were ancient history to us. It’s easy to dismiss them as being “ignorant” of horror cinema, and maybe they are. But you can’t expect them to know films that they’re not being exposed to. And what makes their films any less valid than ours? Can we really expect them to care more about movies made before they were born than the films being made during the time in which they’re living? Why the hell would they? The films we love are “old movies” now to this generation, and we all know how much kids want to listen to their parents’ music, right? Maybe some of them will grow up and rediscover some older films, just like we did. And some of them won’t. But it has to be a natural progression – you can’t force it on them. In the meantime, the old guard of horror fans cling desperately to the films of 25 and 30 years ago, all the while bitching and moaning about how bad it is now, and it’s just kinda sad.

It’s easy to complain about the PG-13 films that attract teenagers, and the endless remakes and sequels. But I honestly think that the “old-school” fans are just as much to blame for this as anyone else. Hollywood exists to make money, after all, and the sad truth is that the majority of R-rated horror films don’t turn a profit theatrically. Sure, there’s the occasional hit like Saw and Hostel, but they’re few and far between. When you look at all the R films that have bombed over the last couple of years – Land of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects, High Tension, Wolf Creek, Slither – you have to wonder where the fuck these old-school fans are when it counts. It’s time for the bitchers and moaners to realize that Hollywood is not a charity. If you want more “hardcore” stuff to come out, you have to support it with your money. Waiting for the DVD just doesn’t cut it. You want to know why Hollywood caters to teens? Because they’ll actually get off their asses and go to the films they want to see on opening weekend. There’s no reason to keep making films that no one goes to see, and certainly no reason to release them theatrically. If Hollywood doesn’t see a market for R-rated horror films, they’re going to stop making them. Except of course for sequels and remakes of the few films that are selling tickets. If these fans want to blame someone for the current trends, they should start by looking in the mirror.

Of course, not everything that comes out really needs to be “hardcore” anyway, which is another thing they don’t understand. There are different kinds of horror films for different audiences, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. A terrific film like The Others doesn’t really need a ton of blood and gore – it’s a ghost story, for cryin’ out loud. Gore shouldn’t be an end in itself; it should be there if it serves the story and the type of film they’re trying to make, and it shouldn’t be there if it doesn’t. I don’t understand people who watch horror films only for the splatter – to me that’s like watching a Western to look at the horses. It’s one element, not the entire film. A film can work very well without it, and a film can work very well with it. And if every horror film was so graphic, there would no longer be a sense of shock when it is done and done well. If everything was hardcore, then nothing would be hardcore.

The truth is, the word “horror” means different things to different people, which is something the hardcores can’t seem to accept. To some people, it’s Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. To others, it’s Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. To others, it’s Jason and Freddy and Michael Myers. It’s not something that’s set in stone, nor should it be. The genre is constantly changing and evolving to accept new definitions. Right now, the Asian thing is hot (although starting to get played out). Ten years from now, it’ll be something else. Ten years after that, it’ll be something else. And believe it or not, in the future today’s kids will look back on this as “the good old days” and will regard the films they grew up on as “classics”. No matter how much the older generation scoffs and shakes their heads. They’re having their time, and it’s as valid as anyone else’s. Get over it already.

Besides, it’s not as if there’s a draught of horror films out there. If you don’t care for the mainstream stuff, head to the video store. DVD is our grindhouse and our drive-in now, and there’s plenty of low-budget, gritty, violent horror out there to fill any appetite. If anything, there’s a better selection now than there ever has been. Whether your thing is slashers, serial killers, demons, devils, vampires, werewolves, witches, bitches or whatever the fuck, there are tons of titles to choose from. You’ll find films of varying quality, of course, but that’s always been the case. The point is, they’re still cranking this stuff out, maybe now more than ever. You just have to dig a little bit, take some chances, read some reviews online to find the good stuff. But the idea that no one’s making edgy horror anymore? That’s a load of crap, and you can throw that in the trash with all the other bullshit presumptions. Horror films are alive and well, just like rock’n’roll – you just have to know what you want, and go find it. So quit your bitching.

Well, I’ve seen way too many movies the last couple of months to cover in this column my usual way, so I’ll just leave some brief impressions. The Departed is awesome, and my favorite movie of the year so far. I’m not one who thinks Scorsese has to make gangster films every time out, but I’m always satisfied when he does. Great cast, great dialogue, great everything. Honestly, does anyone not like this movie? (****) Jet Li’s Fearless (***1/2) is a terrific martial-arts film that Rogue Pictures has done much justice to, while The Protector (** for the US version) is a perfect example of how to butcher a potentially kick-ass flick. Shame on you, Weinsteins! Crank (***) was just sheer badass, politically incorrect fun. The Wicker Man (***) is hugely misunderstood – it’s a LaBute satire, people! Talk about missing the joke. Hollywoodland (***1/2) was a very good, tragic biopic that took Ben Affleck to new heights – late-night comics have to stop making fun of him now! The Grudge 2 (**) was sadly just more of the same, and featured possibly the most passive protagonist in the history of horror cinema. Enough already. Open Season (***) turned out to be a decent “talking animals” flick for kids – Martin and Ashton are much more tolerable when you can’t see them. And songs by Paul Westerberg! My nephew liked it at least, so there you go. The Prestige (***) was a pretty good film, but the big twist is a bit of a cheat in my book. And Shortbus (***1/2), I don’t even know what I think of it, but it’s a miracle that it was made at all and actually released in theaters! If you’re in an adventurous mood, it sure doesn’t get more adventurous than that. If you’re not uptight and can deal with hardcore sex, go for it. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

That about covers it for now. Hopefully it won’t be another two months before I manage to crank one of these out. Talk to you later!

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Blackwater Valley Exorcism (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on October 17, 2006

Directed by Ethan Wiley/written by Ellary Eddy/starring Cameron Daddo, Jeffrey Combs, James Russo, Kristin Erickson, Leslie Fleming-Mitchell/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A country girl is possessed by a demon, while her family deals with personal issues of their own.

I don’t often bother to review straight-to-DVD movies, because I find that people generally know about the rare good ones that come out (mostly through word-of-mouth and the Internet, which amount to the same thing), while the bad ones are mostly ignored. If you keep up with current movies, you pretty much know which ones to check out and which ones to pass by. Let’s face it, a lot of these movies are rented out of cluelessness (having no idea what to rent) or out of desperation (everything good is already out when you get to the store). Sometimes the adventurous types like myself will take a chance on something they’ve never heard of (and seriously, if I’ve never heard of it, it’s pretty obscure), which sometimes pays off. And sometimes it doesn’t.

In this case, they actually sent me a copy, which made me think there must be something to it. It can’t be that bad if they actually want reviews, right? Well… let me put it this way: if Blackwater Valley Exorcism is the only film left on the shelf, you’d be better off going home and taking a nap for 90 minutes. You’ll probably get more out of it, and you won’t be out 4 bucks.

Despite a cover that actually looks pretty cool (albeit a bit too obviously reminiscent of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, of which this is apparently a cheap cash-in), this Exorcism is a dry, dull, talky affair with less action than a typical Scooby-Doo cartoon. Not to mention that the characters are all annoying rednecks with drawls that would embarrass Larry the Cable Guy. I could forgive this if they were at least interesting rednecks, but the lot of them are as blank and boring as a decade-old Garth Brooks album. Trust me, this is 89 excruciating minutes you’re going to want back.

The story, such as it is, revolves around Isabelle (Erickson), who’s apparently a typical down-home teenage country girl. I say “apparently” because we never learn a whole lot about her, nor do we particularly care. She’s been possessed by a demon, which seems to necessitate her being confined to her room for the entire length of the film. I don’t know about you, but if I were a demon from the netherworld of Hell and got the chance to take over the body of a human being, I think I might want to walk around a little bit, hit the town, take in the sights. Then again, Isabelle lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere (we’re never told exactly where “Blackwater Valley” is), so maybe her bedroom is the most interesting place to be in the area.

Her parents, apparently being intellectually stunted, at first believe that Isabelle is just “acting up”. Never mind that her skin has turned purple, she’s hissing and frothing at the mouth like a sick cobra snake, and worst of all, she spends all her time in her negligee (shocking!), they’re convinced she merely needs a little behavioral adjustment. Right. Come on, even rednecks in the middle of nowhere have heard of The Exorcist, haven’t they? It takes their Mexican ranch-hand to finally wise them up to the idea that she may require a bit more than being sent to bed without supper. Because we all know that people from other cultures are more in tune with spiritual matters than whites.

Since Max von Sydow was unavailable (lucky him), the local priest (Daddo) is called in. As luck would have it, it turns out that Father Jacob happens to be the only American priest left to be trained in the rites of exorcism! Isn’t that a coincidence? So he’s not just a redneck exorcist, he’s – wait for it – The Rednexorcist! Jacob also has a history with Isabelle and her family, having once dated her sister Blanche (Fleming-Mitchell) before taking his vows. Isabelle’s parents have their own issues to deal with, which they do in agonizing speeches that seem to take forever and distract from what we’re all here for – the exorcism. As for Isabelle, well, if you’ve been possessed by a demon, molested by your father and fucked your sister’s boyfriend in the shower, you might be an emotionally damaged redneck! Or you might not. We never know, or care.

Does this sound like fun yet? Well, I assure you, it’s not. It’s drab and dreary and about as enjoyable as a prostate exam. Despite appearances, Blackwater is not a horror film – it’s a soap opera with an exorcism thrown in. There’s nothing remotely scary about anything that happens in this film, unless boredom frightens you out of your wits. Director Wiley (the writer of House and writer/director of House II: The Second Story) seems to have no particular clue how to make any of this suspenseful, tense or even marginally intriguing. Every scene is shot flat, like an old Movie of the Week starring Meredith Baxter Birney and a stolen baby. Even when some really fucked-up things are happening on screen, there’s barely a pulse to this entire enterprise. A documentary about grass growing, shot in real time, would look like an IMAX 3-D skydiving film compared to this mess. In all fairness, the production values are decent enough for a low-budget genre film, but that’s about all.

The acting, mainly by a group of unknowns, isn’t even that passable. The flailings and histrionics of Erickson make one nostalgic for the subtlety and nuance of Linda Blair. Isabelle seems more like the victim of a bad allergic reaction (maybe to her bizarrely miscolored makeup job) than someone possessed. Daddo mostly looks like he’s wandered onto the wrong set. The actors who play the family members are all uniformly terrible, to the point where I actually thought they were real rednecks attempting to act. The casting is so clueless that they actually cast veteran B-movie tough guy Russo as a kindly priest. I guess Tom Sizemore wasn’t available?

The one bright spot is the brief appearance by horror icon Combs, who’s surprisingly effective as a good ol’ boy Sheriff (about as far removed from his most famous character, mad scientist Dr. Herbert West from the Re-Animator films, as you can get). It’s too bad that he’s in so little of the movie, and his character serves so little purpose that he could have been cut out completely, because he easily outshines everyone else in the entire cast. Combs isn’t the kind of actor who can pick and choose his roles, I know – but dude, come on, man. Was the paycheck for five minutes of screen time really worth it? There are hardcore fans of his out there who will watch anything just because he’s in it – and they’re going to have to sit through this crap? Trust me, folks, it ain’t worth it. You don’t have to take the hit this time. Do yourself a favor and watch Abominable instead – Combs is in it for about as long, and it’s a lot more fun.

Despite the cover’s claim that the film is “Based on an Actual Event”, there’s no indication of that in the actual movie. We’re not told when, where or if any of this actually happened, so that’s certainly no incentive to see this. Supposedly the exorcism scenes were “Filmed under the supervision of the Traditional Catholic Bishop Jason Spadafore” (that’s a direct quote from both the cover and the film), but in all honesty, the movie’s so damn boring that by the time they finally get to any of that, you really don’t care anymore. These could conceivably be the most realistic exorcism scenes ever filmed, for all I know, but that doesn’t make them any more interesting to watch. And seriously, Father – shame on you for helping them make this trash! Your involvement requires some serious penance. And bring the entire cast and crew along with you.

Have I convinced you that there’s no reason whatsoever to watch Blackwater Valley Exorcism? I seriously hope so, because if I can spare even one person the kind of pain I suffered through, it will be worth it. Just walk on by. There are plenty of more worthy horror films on the video store shelves – Feast, The Woods, Imprint. Rent one of them instead. Trust me on this – there is nothing worth seeing here. Don’t even bother to catch up to it on cable. You will not be happy with yourself afterwards.

* 10/17/06

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