Friday, February 3rd, 2012

"The Woman in Black": Everything Old Is Good Again

Horror movies are beset with misconceptions, the greatest being: "How can you watch those things!? They're all fatuous violence and gratuitous boobs!" Which is kindof like saying, "How can you read those feminist blogs?! They're all alluvial deposits of man-hating penis envy!"

The truth is that the horror canon, like any other film group, contains a vast spectrum of work ranging from smack-somebody awfulness to transcendence. The only thread holding it all together is that every horror film DEMANDS something of you—that you abandon the safe, bucolic cognition of your daily reality and confront the darker aspects of being alive. Some movies do this by plopping a likable protagonist [...]


‘Paranormal Activity 3’: Humans Are Suckers, And That’s OK

When you’re making a horror movie, the hard part is always human diversity—you have to trigger fear for the largest number of people, which is tough since we’re all a slightly different brand of crazy. Sometimes filmmakers go too specific—targeting agoraphobics, or those random people with papaphobia (uncontrollable fear of the Pope) or even the weirdos who shriek at the sight of wet bread. This tactic always fails. The trick is to find an element of the human psyche that’s ALWAYS ready to be freaked out. Which is what the Paranormal Activity series has done so effectively. No matter who you are, you have a bed that you go [...]


'The Thing' Is A Replicant Sent To Suck All Joy From Monster Movies

Monsters aren’t inherently interesting. Sure, by virtue of their being strange and menacing and outside the periphery of normal existence, they’ll usually hold our attention for 90 minutes or so. But their scariness is all in the context and presentation. And just as it’s possible to take a transcendent ensemble cast and putrefy it by adding Eli Roth (yes, I’m still pissed about that), so is it possible to make an utter yawn-fest monster flick. Case in point: The Thing, which opens today.

I’m one of those assholes who can prattle on for days about the 1982 version—seriously, just ask anyone who’s gotten stuck talking to me. [...]


'Straw Dogs': 40 Years After The Original, It Still Sucks To Be A Man

Whenever men have described to me what it's like to be male, it sounds friggin' awful—a nonstop blitzkrieg of Hobbesian brutality. Your life, as they depict it, is a war on two fronts: the front that wants to get laid, and will do whatever it takes to do so, and the front that must fight off other men. Both require totally different skill sets, and a loss on either shore is devastating. A friend told me that when he walks down the sidewalk, other (usually larger) men will step in his path to launch a game of Chicken, and they’ll slam into him unless he pulls away. (A guy did [...]


'Fright Night' Has No Business Being This Good

Some horror movies want to turn your stomach into fermented battery acid. Some want to slap you with political/gender/socio-cultural statements. And some are just there to bring the awesome (and shower you with ironic gore). Which brings us to Fright Night, opening today.

The 1985 original was one of those tepid '80s movies that make us olds feel all nostalgic but, at the end of the day, was truly crap. The premise was your classic “fear thy suburban neighbor” scenario: teenage kid lives with single mom in Anywhere, USA and discovers the cool single guy next door is a vampire. Clichés and lame special effects abound, [...]


'Final Destination 5': Death's A Great Punchline (That Needs A Better Setup)

We don't do much with death in media. While pop culture is packed with anal sex jokes and headlines likening the Dow to a high-class hooker, the actual mechanics of death are one of the few things we bypass. Call it the last taboo. 

Movies wade through death in a variety of ways. Typically, there’s buildup to a tragedy, with a focus on the pain of loss and the hardship left in its wake. Death is used alternately as character forger or plot device (is the hero really dead?? He CAN’T be!!). But horror films enjoy a singular relationship with death. Horror alone has our permission to [...]


The Eight Truths About Weddings (That No One Ever Tells You)

Once you decide to have a wedding, there are many, many things to read: etiquette guides, Dos and Don'ts, planning checklists, vendor guides, “inspiration boards,” disaster stories, angry bridesmaid rants ("bitch made me wear PURPLE SHOES!"), even socio-political screeds about the cultural irrelevance of the whole thing. All of these are nice, and all of them are utterly useless.

If you're the one getting married—which I am, in three months, while also attending eight other weddings in as many months due to a hyper-marital zeitgeist (that, as of July 24th, includes New York gays!! Welcome to the madness!!)—a mysterious stupor befalls you. The tales of "bridal nervous breakdowns” [...]


‘Rabies’: The First Israeli Horror Film Is Just That

What do you say about the first Israeli horror film… besides the fact that it's the first Israeli horror film? And that, with that distinction comes a frenetic array of cultural, religious and political associations that may as well serve as a Rorschach test for anyone watching it? Israel as the setting for a horror film (Rabies, or Kalevet in Hebrew, which just debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival) is a manifesto in and of itself—particularly when the directors, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, have been touting the movie as an allegory on the state of Israel (though honestly, they have plenty of incentive to spew jargon like [...]


‘Scream 4’: The First Mainstream Feminist Horror Film

Scre4m’s task was never easy. Not only was it rebooting the first "self-aware horror franchise" and hauling the institutional weight of a generation, it was also selling its shtick to a new batch of teens so savvy they can plug their tongues directly into iPads to sync their brains. Remember the halcyon innocence of 1996? How tickled we were that a horror movie was listing slasher-flick rules and mocking Richard Gere? Yeah, kids now consider that about as edgy as a Nu Shooz reunion tour.

And sure enough, no one wanted to see it. Opening weekend was dismal, grossing a mere $18.7 million (which ain’t bad for a horror [...]


‘Insidious’ and the Sacred Rules of Ghost Movies

What happens when James Wan, the Sultan of Saw (which, let us never forget, is the most important film series ever made) makes an old-school ghost movie?

Well, for one, he steals. From Argento, Polanski, Spielberg, Amenábar, even Shyamalan (who, let us not forget, did make one great ghost movie). And yes, James Wan even steals from himself. When faced with the prospect of a meat-and-potatoes horror film, the maestro of torture fetish has spackled together bits and shards from nearly everything in the genre, forming a pasty drywall that’s scary in some places, and just silly in others. And thus we have Insidious—in [...]


‘Red Riding Hood’ and the Gripping Jaws of Sexless Teens

Teenagers aren’t having much sex these days. And why should they? If it’s not the AIDS resurgence or public displays of adolescent pregnancy, it’s HPV, or syphilis (yes, syphilis) or any other number of other pestilences that rot your organs and turn your genitals to corrugated mush.

So does all this adolescent celibacy mean that today’s teens are less horny than their free-love Baby Boomer predecessors, or the angst-ridden millennials, or any other group of teens in history? Not a chance. If there’s one universal of the human condition, it’s hormones: Our biochemistry is primed to make us breed, and that means endless streams of panting, [...]


'The Rite' Wants You to Believe in God (and Anthony Hopkins)

I hate to call atheism "cool" these days. "Cool" is a word for pork belly entrées or jeggings or "homemade artisanal spirits" (a.k.a., moonshine), not the ideological choice to disbelieve in a higher entity. Nonetheless, fully (and publicly) embracing religiosity and all its hymn-reading cross-loving righteousness is very distinctly uncool.

All of which presents an interesting backdrop for an exorcism film that takes place in the Vatican (The Rite, in theaters today). The built-in skepticism of the digital age sets up a hefty challenge before the first camera ever rolls: How the hell do you sell a movie about devout Catholics fighting hordes of tongues-speaking slime-spitting demon-hosts to [...]


Horror Chick: ‘Let Me In’ and the Blessed Vampire Redemption

Pity the vampires. They've been tucked and slicked and oiled and waxed out of any shred of real dignity. Whatever happened to the grainy, unwashed horror of Dracula? The blood-soaked poetry of Bram Stoker? Nowadays vampires are a joke–walking sex toys with their spackled hair and waxy genitals and teams of rabid publicists who are far scarier than any bloodsucker in history.

And yet for even the most heinous cinematic-genre crimes, redemption can arrive in myriad ways. In this case, it came from Sweden.


Horror Chick: 'Devil': The Further Fall of the House of M. Night Shyamalan

You don't see a horror movie to have a nice time. You don't go to lace fingers with your sweetie and laugh at the witty repartee and sniffle into your shirtsleeve during the climactic emotional breakthroughs and gradually be lulled into halcyon repose filled with reassurance that humanity is all roses and puppies and gold lamé jumpsuits. You go to have your consciousness assaulted, your moral grounding questioned, and your niggling suspicion that our species is teetering on the edge of total depravity confirmed. You go to be right-hooked out of the day-to-day complacency of post-industrial Western life. And above all, you go to have your motherf&%#ing balls scared [...]


In Defense of Having Children

Disclosure! I will begin by stating that, at the age 31, I currently have no children. Which, in and of itself, will be a driver for many parents to click the "BACK" button on their browsers while muttering that I have nothing resembling a fucking clue about this topic. Click away, self-righteous parents! No doubt you have a poop-flinging banshee destroying your living room at this very moment. Go handle your business. No hard feelings.

Despite not having children, I think about them. A lot. In recent years, the full teeming strength of my biology has been consumed with a single, driving goal: to produce babies. And now that [...]


'Predators': Horror Chick on ‘Predators’ and the Death of Hope

Those of us who were moviegoers in 1987 have a very soft spot in our heart for Predator, the magnificent dual-governor-to-be casted scifi-horror-monster flick. Today, two Predator fans take a look at the sequel, the imaginatively titled Predators. First up, horror connoisseur Melissa Lafsky.

There's a danger inherent in getting too close to something you love. In the background lurks a brutal threat, where the joy can be vacuumed from the object of your affection, and the empty space filled with a boiling cynical goo. Think figure skating-get too involved in the sport, and the unfiltered awe of grace and human artistry can erode away, till you're [...]


Horror Chick: The Awfulness of "Splice" Cannot Be Solved by Adrien Brody and Monster Sex

It's hard out there for a genetic engineer these days. How are you supposed to synthesize your eukaryotic poly-glucose, or whatever the hell you do all day, without getting sucked into the fecund pit of political debate? Cloning, gene manipulation, synthetic life-none of them exist free of partisan precepts and ideological dogma. Movies that take on this modern scientific dilemma have a perfect opportunity to depict science's brilliant minds as they actually are: human beings, as jam-packed with flaws and biases and BS as the rest of us. Of course, you could also take a step further, and make scientists the DUMBEST motherf#ckers on the planet. Which is what Splice [...]


Horror Chick: ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ Isn't the 80s (But It’s Great!)

I've been getting flack for not "rating" movies. "How many stars does it get?" people ask. "Should I see it or not?" The problem with this last question is that my answer will always be "yes," since I watch horror movies no matter how bad they are. It's like asking a crackhead if you should spring for that double rock laced with motor oil. But since this is a big mainstream release and a lot of people are considering shelling out cash for tickets, here's your answer: See this movie. It's great. Now that we've gotten all that useful information out of the way, let's talk about something more [...]


Horror Chick: Do Not See 'The Human Centipede' Unless You Are a Sick, Sick Puppy, And Even Then Reconsider

It's time to add a new type of bad movie to the ever-growing list: The aggressively bad movie. There's no ironic badness or nudge-nudge wink-ery here-it's more like "screw you, you were sucker enough to see this movie and now we will do our best to make bile shoot straight up your esophagus and launch out your nostrils" bad. Our prime example: The Human Centipede (in theaters-or maybe just one theater, IFC). "Wait," you say, "isn't that the 'ass-to-mouth' movie?" Yes. Yes it is. In every literal and figurative sense.


Horror Chick: Why We Should Rejoice for 'Birdemic,' AKA ‘The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made’

It's tough to make bad movies in the Age of Irony. Once you reach a certain level of badness, it raises a slew of questions: is it an "ironically bad" movie, where the director is tossing us a wink-wink-nudge-nudge with every line of face-clawing dialogue? Or is the whole debacle a deliberate attempt at "look at our reverential homage" bad? (Cough cough, Inglourious Basterds.) Or maybe it's "look at how bad this is but it's so bad it's actually good, and if you don't think so then you don't 'get it'" bad? The whole thing gets so confusing (I have had it with this motherfucking irony in these motherfucking films!). [...]