The Horror! The Horror!
posted by Mike on 7/28/03
Ouch... hurts the eyes, doesn't it? Just makes you want to curl up in your bathroom and wash your eyes out with Draino. Well, sad to say, that one image is scarier than anything you'll see in the four films I'm about to discuss.
These days, I don't get out to movies much. As some of you know, my first child was born back in January, and is now going on six months old, and I'm not about to deal with the torture of taking a kid that age to a movie theater, so usually the best I can hope for is some old reruns of the Golden Girls on Lifetime when I get off work. I wouldn't have it any other way, naturally. I love the little guy to death. But I can't help but feel a slight twinge of longing every time I pass by the AMC 24 and see all the movies I'd otherwise have already seen multiple times by now.
But on occasion, I have been able to stop by the Blockbuster inside the local Wal-mart, whilst picking up diapers, baby formula, and toys that my son will look at once, spit all over, and then never pick up again. This last trip, I decided it had been too long since I'd sat down and enjoyed a good horror film (Maid In Manhattan exlcuded, of course.) So I rented four: The Ring, Fear-dot.com, Darkness Falls, and Ghost Ship.
Man, fuck this shit!
After sitting through all four, I couldn't quite believe what I'd just seen. Being a horror buff from the time I was scarcely three, (I saw the made-for-TV version of Salem's Lot at that age and was hooked) I know what makes for a good horror film. A good horror film is one that makes you forget that you're watching a movie. It's a film that focuses on the characters rather than false shocks and gimmicks. A good horror film should make you afraid to leave your foot dangling over the side of the bed at night, fearful that a hand may reach out from under the bed and grab it.
Thinking back, I can name several that, on the first viewing, had that effect on me... The Exorcist: Special Edition, particularly the scene where Reagan walks upside and backwards on all fours down the stairs... A Nightmare On Elm Street, (gimme a break now... I was 9 when it came out on video) back then the only part of Freddy's face you could see clearly was his eyes, white and wide and staring... Night Of The Living Dead ("They're coming to get you, Barbara!")... and most of all, the original Haunting of Hill House... so much better than Liam Neeson's big budget remake, because you NEVER SAW A SINGLE FUCKING GHOST. It was what you couldn't see that terrified, what you didn't know was lurking behind the door. The film played like one long episode fo the Twilight Zone, with a level of horror as intense as the one scene from the episode "To Serve Man," where the hero discovers that the aliens' message of peace wasn't called "To Serve Man," but "How To Serve Man," as in Man Augraten, Man A La Mode, Man Teryaki... you get the idea.
Those were horrific. They played on the senses, but not to the point of using a gimmick like a one trick pony. They went for the jugular, and didn't let go of you, even to the final frame. That was fear. That was horror. That was genius at work.
These four films that I recently viewed were not fear-enducing. They weren't horrific, nor even midly nerve-twisting. Since the horror genre has been irrepairably damaged by Wes Craven's horror-dramedy "Scream," it has become increasingly difficult to find films that can still give that electric charge of dreadful anticipation. I find it nothing short of a death nell for the genre that I picked up four of the most recent, supposedly the best in horror that Hollywood can muster these days, only to not find a single scare amongst them... well, one tiny unnerving bonus on the DVD version of one film, but that doesn't make up for the other 90 minutes of cranial diarhetic I had to sit to to get to it.
So without further ado, let's take a look at these films, and see if we can find any merit in them... even just a little...
Coming soon: Pinochio 2: The Pinoltergeist.
I loaded this one into my DVD player knowing that it had been touted by several movie sites as being a Ring rip-off. Having now seen both, I can say this would not have been a good thing, no matter how it was filmed. FDC stars Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost from the first Blade film) as Mike Reilly, a NYPD police detective who is investigating an unusual series of deaths. Apparently, you see, there's this website. It's called fear.com. And if you go to this website, you die 48 hours later. Of course, Reilly is your typical cynical cop who has to see the wounds before he can believe the miracle, so he goes to the website himself, hoping that the experience will somehow lead him to the truth.
First off, Dorff is no stranger to shitty horror films. When he was about 12 years old, he starred in a direct-to-video pile o' dung called The Gate, where playing an Ozzy Ozbournish rocker's record backwards opens a doorway into Hell, letting loose all these little gray monstrosities who look a hell of a lot like Ghoulies, but done in Gumby-quality stop-motion animation. He sucked in that flick, and he sucks worse here. Honestly, the chick at the Magic Kingdom who wears the Winnie The Pooh costume pulls off a more convincing performance than this hopeless fucker. He wanders from scene to scene looking like he's suffering from Excedrin headache 1006, his face twisted in pain, like he just finished sitting through his own film Dueces Wild.
The plot is so full of holes that Lee Harvey Oswald could shoot accurately through any one of them. Stephen Rea, fresh off his stint as the annoying stuck-up french vampire in 1994's Interview With A Vampire, plays a serial killer named Allistair Pratt, a man who lures victims to his secret resevoire lair and then hacks them to bits whilst broadcasting it live via webcam to perverts across the planet. Unbeknownst to him, but knownst to anyone who's seen The Ring, the ghost of one of his victims (a woman whose body is later found at the bottom of a flooded tunnel way... you know, rather like a well...) is "haunting" his website, killing anyone who fails to solve the mystery of her death... Since she only gives them 48 hours to figure it out, this leaves little hope for anyone more than a couple hours from New York who was a paying member.
In his quest to solve the mystery, Reilly encounters just about every horror cliche you can think of: the dead woman in the bathtub, the room covered in chalk drawings, the hunter who becomes the hunted, and last but not least, the false ending. It's a false ending in more than one respect, as the climax revolves around a bit of CGI-devised garbage that lacks any sense of style, function, or terror. When the T-Rex jumped out at you in Jurassic Park, it looked like a T-Rex, and you responded accordingly. When a big brown blob of crap floats across the screen, you feel the urge to flush it like any other piece of refuse, not cower in horror at the sight of it. This one was worse than the Ring, but only because it stole half of the Ring's plot. The only aspect of the film that amused me was the blurb at the end: "Visit the website at www.feardotcom.com."
Redundancy, and irony, all in one closing sentence. Now that's an ending.
Ethereal image of terror, or a photographic negative of Reuben's asshole? You be the judge.
2) The Ring
I had high hopes for this one, having heard so many good things about Ringu, the Japanese film on whch it was based. Sadly, Hollywood has taught us that for every good foreign film, there's an asshole out there willing to fuck it all up for American audiences, and this film is no exception (another good example would be the Jeff Bridges film The Vanishing, which was directed by the same man who did the original French film, so someone please explain THAT one to me.)
The film concerns a videotape, a tape that shows several disjointed graphically disturbing images, beginning and ending with the image of a white, glowing ring of light. After viewing it, the victim receives a phone call informing him/her that he/she will die in seven days.
The tape falls into the hands of Rachel Keller (played by Naomi Watts) who is the aunt of the most recent victim, and a journalist. She of course watches the film, and gets the phone call. She then shows it to her former boyfriend and convenient expert on video manipulation, who also gets the phone call. Then, just to add insult to injury, she leaves the tape lying around and her son, doing his best Haley Joel Osment impersonation, watches it, and gets the phone call, then proceeds to have "visions" concerning the mysterious girl on the tape.
It would seem that a young girl who had psychic powers was born to the owner of a horse breeding farm. She was examined by the top minds in the field of "girls who are evil as shit," and during that time used her powers to impose these images onto the tape, which was somehow smuggled out of the facility's library. This girl was murdered by her own mother, strangled and shoved down a well. The Ring you see is her point of view, the ring of sunlight creeping in past the lid covering the well.
Rachel decides that the only way to stop it is to free the girl's soul by finding the well, falling into it, then cradling the corpse in her arms whilst it turns to dust. Yeah, it didn't make any fucking sense to me either.
But ah hah! The girl fooled us all! Now her soul has been FREED from the well, so she can more effectively kill people with her tape, which she was able to do while inside the well just fine... huh? Rachel also figures out that she wasn't killed, because she passed the tape on to other victims, so the only way she can save her son is by allowing him to make a copy of the tape, then leave it on the shelf of a video store for some other poor schlub to find. Yeah... I'm going to walk into a Blockbuster and spend money on a film with no box, and no label. Maybe she was hoping some perv would picking it up thinking it was a scat flick, which come to think of it, wouldn't be much of a different experience than I had renting this, as either way, I would've ended up watching a load of shit.
(Incidentally, this film is the one that had the DVD easter egg I mentioned earlier. If you watch the film, then press up on your DVD remote, the cursor goes to a blank spot on the screen. Hit enter, and it plays "the tape" for you... and you can't shut it off. Something about the encoding disables your remote. You can't stop it, you can't fast forward, you can't go back to the DVD menu, you can't even turn your DVD player off. Short of unplugging your player or turning off the TV, you have no choice but to sit and watch the whole thing. Then, it goes back to the main menu, and you hear a phone ring... pretty nifty...)
The Frag Boat... Soon we'll be blowing you all to hell...
3) Ghost Ship
What a waste of time. This film is the third in the Dark Castle series, films that are all remakes of b-grade shlock films by William Castle, the Ed Wood of his day. The first two, The Hause On Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, were marginally entertaining, mostly due to unique set design and better than average special effects. I was expecting more of the same with Ghost Ship, and based on the first 5 minutes, I thought the film would at least live up to the other two, not a difficult feat by any means.
It opens in the 60's on the sundeck of the Antonia Graza, an Italian ocean liner. We see a dance... the music's playing, the staff are dancing with the passengers, wine and fun times are being had by all... that is, until a steel support line gives way and snaps across the dance floor, bisecting about a hundred dancers simultaneously, blood and body parts flopping to the dance floor like dead fish. We flash forward to the present day. Gabriel Byrne plays Sean Murphy, the captain of a salvage ship called the Arctic Warrior. A man comes to him in a bar, claiming to have found a huge ocean liner adrift in international waters (nevermind the fact that it's thousands of miles away from where it originally vanished) and offers to take him to it in exchange for half of the salvage proceeds.
They locate the ship in short order, but find that it's being controlled by an evil force hellbent on killing them all. Mixed in with this retreaded plotline is a mystery surrounding stolen gold bars, and a hole in the boat's hull that's slowly causing it to sink. There's a cliched stereotype, the hardened black crew member who seems like one of the smartest men on the team, until he runs into the ghost of a seductive half-naked white woman, then he instantly becomes the DUMBEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED. There's also the ghost of a little girl who died that night on the ship, who spends most of the film doing her best to emmulate Carol Anne from the Poltergeist films, speaking in veiled riddles and threats, until the characters become so dumbed down by the script that the girl has to literally take one of them back in time through her memories to let her see firsthand what happened, only to discover one of the dumbest plot gimmicks I've ever seen: that the man who hired them to find the boat is in fact a fallen angel, who lures people onto ship after ship, fills their hearts with greed at the thought of stealing the gold for themselves, then when they kill each other off, he takes their souls to hell so he can keep up his soul quota. Well supposedly, God finds each sin equally offensive... why didn't he just get the whole lot of them drunk on firewater until everyone on the ship had fucked or been fucked by everyone else, then ram the boat into an iceberg? Why the whole Scooby-Doo 1+1=a man in a mask plot formula? The whole film seems like it was done via Scriptwriting by Numbers, or one of those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books they used to sell when I was a kid. "To see the Antonia Graza sink in a fiery ball of green flame, turn to page 78. To see the freed souls fly to heaven, turn to page 92. To wipe your ass on this shitty script, turn to any page you like."
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the dentist...
4) Darkness Falls
I can't believe someone financed this. I watched it last night, and sat up for an hour, stupified by what I'd seen. This is one of the few times where I've watched a film so bad I actually FELT dumber after having watched it. Even the Leprechaun films had a certain draw to them. You knew it was stupid, but that's why you watch. Because it's so stupid that it's mildly entertaining. But Darkness Falls is a different creature entirely. It's a stupid film that thinks it's a serious horror story, and goes to great lengths to convince you of it.
Apparently, years ago in the town of Darkness Falls, there was a kindly old woman named Matilda who gave all the children in town gold coins for their baby teeth. Because of this, the children called her the Tooth Fairy. Then one day, her house burned down around her. She survived, but was horribly scarred, her skin now so sensitive to light that she was forced to live in darkness, only coming out at night, and even then, hiding her face beneath a porcelein mask that looks like a cross between the mask from Scream and a stolen prop from the Phantom of The Opera.
Two children disappear, and the Tooth Fairy is blamed. She swears she's innocent, but the townsfolk have apparently read up on the Salem Witch Trials and know just what to do to ugly old women who give children money. They hang her. Just before she dies, she curses the town. Since that fateful day, every child in Darkness Falls dies the night they lose their last baby tooth... Or so we're led to believe. Realistically, there would be hardly any town left if this were true. But that's neither here nor there. We can't let our teror be impeded by common sense!
The film opens with one young boy named Kyle whose mother is attacked by the Tooth Fairy and killed on the night that his last baby tooth falls out. Nevermind that his mother hasn't lost a baby tooth in over thirty years. Apparently, the actual rule is: "The Tooth Fairy will kill any child who loses their last baby tooth, and any poor unfortunate bastard she happens across in the process." At any rate, this kid escapes by locking himself in the bathroom with the lights on, where the Tooth Fairy can't go, because even though she's dead, her dead, nonexistant flesh is still highly light sensitive... Uh huh...
Flash forward 16 years, and Kyle is a bonafide nutcase, who carries a bag full of flashlights and mind altering drugs everywhere he goes (come to think of it, I'm sure many of you know a few ravers who fit that description.) His childhood sweetheart's son is now having nightmares about the Tooth Fairy, so Kyle returns to his hometown to confront his old fears, and save his lost love's son. By defeating the Tooth Fairy.
I am not making this up. That really is the plot of the film. Kyle and the rest spend much of the movie running around in the dark screaming incoherently and slinging their flashlights fast enough to bring on seizures. On the rare occasions that the Tooth Fairy does appear, she's just a stunt woman dressed in a Grim Reaper cloak and a white ceramic mask, otherwise her presence is made known by either the lights going out, (causing several minutes of the film to be nothing but a completely black screen and sound effects) or by her raspy breathing, which reminded me of Woody Harrelson's cigarette-toting landlady in Kingpins. When her mask finally comes off towards the end of the film, she looks for all the world like Freddy Krueger's horny grandma, complete with whispy gray hair, milky white eyes, and burnt skin that looks like it was stripped from a KFC value meal.
This flick pulled out every stop in the horror cliche book trying to ellicit SOME form of a fright, including the "cat darts across the screen" gag that's been used in just about every horror film since Alien in 1979. But in the end it fails, simply because the Tooth Fairy, the central core of the plot, is probably the dumbest horror movie villain I've ever seen, short of the Driller Killer from the old Slumber Party movies, who killed his victims with an electric guitar that had a rotating drill bit on one end.
I felt like I'd been had. The commericals for the film simply implied that the plot would make use of light and dark, and mentioned nothing about old women, or baby teeth, or dead old women who had a fetish for baby teeth. Even now, after having had an entire day to absorb my memories of the film, I'm still dumbfounded as to WHY someone would want to make a horror movie about the Tooth Fairy... Then again, they did Santa Claus with Silent Night, Deadly Night. They did Frosty the Snowman with Jack Frost, (a movie that's great because it KNOWS it's awful, and the sequel's even better) and now they've done the Tooth Fairy. Shit, all that's left is the Easter Bunny and The Great fuckin' Pumpkin and we'll have all the major holidays covered... oh wait... I forgot about Donnie Darko and Pumpkinhead...
So my quest for a decent horror film made after 1994 continues. With one exception (Jeepers Creepers) I haven't seen a decent horror flick in the new millenium, and with more Castle remakes on the way, and Freddy Vs Jason out in August, and an Exorcist prequel coming next year, I don't expect to see one any time soon. Case in point. Tonight, I plan on sitting through "They," the latest Wes Craven produced film. I stress produced, because that's what's implied by the full title: Wes Craven Presents - They. This already indicates to me that the script was so shitty he refused to direct it himself, so I'm not holding out much hope. That doesn't say much for today's horror films, when I'm more afraid of watching the film than the film itself... At any rate, I'm starved for decent horror flicks released in the last 6 years... If any of you reading this know of any I may have overlooked, drop me a line in the forum and let me know... if I can find a copy (I know some of you out there love to recommend films you can only find in bootleg form on the back shelf of a hashish store in Bangkok) and like it, I'll do a write up on it... In the meantime, if I wanna see something scary, I'll watch Bill the Butcher from Gangs Of New York...Until then... don't turn out the light... or do, who gives a shit?