Friday, July 29, 2011

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

The British are an interesting bunch. Dead on the inside, sparkling wit on the outside... they are monsters unto themselves. Room-temperature-tea-drinking monsters.

Paul Revere, local show-off and tattle-tale
The rest of the world's perception of Britain is also interesting. Wherever possible they are a villain and their accent is the definition of snootiness (unless you're in a Mike Leigh film) because, gosh-darn it, have you truly forgiven them for colonization? I thought not.

But those bad-teeth, sausage-roll-loving bastards have had some truly awesome horror films. Obviously it's hard to generalize an entire nation's contribution to a genre, but hey, why not try?

The British have a rich history of literature, and with the emergence of the Gothic-horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein et al) the macabre is present in such classics as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and A Christmas Carol. As film became more popular it was natural that one of the giants in the early days of the film industry was Hammer Horror in the 1950s. Its famed versions of Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dracula among others would become the norm for horror films and, eventually, be endlessly parodied.

As the times changed so did audiences' taste. They no longer wanted the schlock and awe of the Hammer Horror film but rather something more sophisticated. With the emergence of psychological horror the monsters we feared were often and inextricably tied to ourselves. The Haunting (1963) is arguably one of the best haunted house flicks there has ever been and ever will be. A team of paranormal investigators take up residence at the haunted Hill House in hopes of discovering some kind of evidence of a ghostly presence. What follows is some of the most intense and chilling scenes ever committed to celluloid. Without blood or gore, The Haunting is a landmark for classy and sinister horror films.

Ten years later Don't Look Now (1973) was released and while it was initially known for its stunningly graphic sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, it is a creepy-ass movie about the aftermath of the death of a young child. Sutherland and Christie go to Venice to try and put their lives back together after the accidental death of their daughter only to be told the spirit of their daughter is trying to warn them. Beware the red coat.

Taking us into the 1980s we have John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981) about two friends, one who winds up dead and the other winds up with an annoying monthly habit of maiming people. A horror comedy, yes, but this is the first and few movies to be both equally horrifying and funny. Rick Baker is in his prime bringing to life the most awesome werewolf transformation to screen. But seriously, stay on the trails in Yorkshire.

The 90s were a mixed bag for horror the world over. Scream was the only film to stick a landing and make an impression. But there are several awesome films that still have loyal followings that also happened to come out in the 90s.Event Horizon (1997) was one such film. What I thought would be silly turned out to be freakishly terrifying. Paul W.S. Anderson (who would go on to make Resident Evil) went all out in this film which, though incoherent, remains terrifying. One of the big themes in sci-fi/horror films is a crew must investigate a ship that has stopped sending communication or has started sending an SOS signal with only evil things awaiting the crew going to help. Methinks some people are still smarting over smallpox.

The 2000s were a pretty great time for British horror. You've got Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, 28 Days Later and The Children just to name a few. Why the resurgence, you ask? Well, with the resurgence of the British independent cinema in the 1990s the infrastructure was set in place to produce more homegrown films and a decade later, some of those new filmmakers (and 'Old Guard' Danny Boyle) were still making films that reflected the Britain they saw around them. But with 9/11, the London bombings, the War in Iraq and many other things, horror is a great way to reflect the chaos and confusion around us. By circumventing the politics they can deal with the human factor.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trailer Review: Paranormal Activity 3

As most of you probably already know the trailer for Paranormal Activity 3 was released this week. If you haven't seen it, find it here.

Now, I loved Paranormal Activity. The first one scared the bejesus out of me. And the second one, while less scary, still ultimately succeeded in interesting ways. I have a bit of a problem with the trailer for #3. The first and second films were leading up to what happens when (SPOILER) a posessed Katie gets out into the world. The second one gave some clues, but that's why I was getting excited for the third installment. The trailer for #3, however, shows the sisters as they were growing up when their family was initially possessed by unseen forces.

But can and should the producers be striving to make a prequel of a prequel? I don't know. It feels like they couldn't come up with anyway to maintain the established tropes of the films. When you expand the film beyond the controlled location of a house, how do you maintain a documentary-style feel? The only answer I can come up with is if the Kardashians got possessed and E! filmed it for a new reality spin-off.

The fear I have at this juncture is that Paranormal Activity is becoming the new Saw franchise. Every October whatever there will be a new one. Regardless of its merit. Which is a shame. For those that were scared by the first one, it was a nifty and inventive little film that caught them off guard. The second one didn't scare me because, well, me and everyone else in the theatre knew what was coming. But if you tamper with the formula, what happens? The studio doesn't make as much money? Bigger risks equals uncertain returns. As much as I would like to ignore the fact that films are designed to make money once they are in the studio system, I can't.

Let's take a look at the Rec series. The first two are AMAZING. Seriously. If you haven't seen them, see them now. The word on the new ones in development is they are breaking away from the POV shooting style (there will still be elements of it) and shooting it with a larger scope to show the outbreak as it spreads. It's incredibly risky, but ultimately will provide a potentially bigger pay-off to those involved and those who love the films. 

Though I would like to see Kim Kardashian get possessed and eat Kourtney while Ryan Seacrest looks on.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Perhaps it's my unrelenting viewing of horror movies since I was small or the fact that there could literally be a serial killer anywhere but I expect death around every corner. Because of that, I'm still alive. Yes, I've accidentally punched my roommate more than I should but she could have been Pinhead. A 5'2 version of Pinhead.

In any event, I like to think of Scare-Tactic as a how-to guide of survival skills culled from movies. I'm like Oprah without the mess of panicky 50-somethings. In this post I'd like to talk a little bit about cottages. We all need a weekend away with a group of friends to goof-off but if you'd like to come home again here are some handy guidelines from films.

In Which We Learn From.... Friday the 13th (1980)
Don't have sex. It will be tempting, but don't do it. Firstly, do you want to be the jerk keeping your friends up with a squeaky mattress? Secondly, you'll die. You will die. There is literally no way around it. You'll live longer if you have sex with someone you don't care about. But God help you if you're in a committed relationship. This is how is generally plays out.

BLANDLY ATTRACTIVE GUY: Wait, where's Sarah?
SOME OTHER GUY: I think he got her. We have to keep going. We have to make it to the car.
BLANDLY ATTRACTIVE GUY: No, I'm going back for her. We had this fight earlier and she has to know how I feel.

No. No, she doesn't need to know how you feel. Go to couples therapy when you get back to the city. Because, do you want to end up like this:
Happy and single in the city.
In a relationship and dead in the country.
In Which We Learn From... The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This is a note about technology. Don't depend on it. It will do you no good. Always assume the second you leave a metropolitan area your cell phone/pacemaker/laptop will burst into flames (if you're lucky, otherwise they become possessed) so don't even bother.

When you resort to filming yourself you invariably get some horrific up-the-nose shots. 

Technology has a funny way of acting as encouragement to evil spirits. It's like a Ouija Board x100. Ghosts, witches, demons turn into show offs and like turning even more evil. So your friend that wants to make a documentary about what a cool group of 20-somethings you are, punch them out and throw them in the car trunk until you're ready to leave.

In Which We Learn From... The Evil Dead (1981)

What don't we learn from The Evil Dead? Seriously. This is a horror movie and self-help book rolled into one.
- When you come to a bridge with a sign that says "Cross At Your Own Risk." Think twice and look into where the closest Best Western Hotel is.
-Don't touch shit that isn't yours. It could be someone's vibrator or a Necronomicon.
-If you want to get out of there, go! Leave the douche-y guy behind. He'll only be a zombie-demon later.
-When killing something requires complete dismemberment, go for it. This is not the time to pussy out.
-If you make it to dawn. Prepare for the sequel. It's totally coming.
-When in doubt, do as Ash would do.

Happy Summer everyone!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold... Repeatedly

Norway is a pretty great country. There are crazy Viking museums and it's the home of Ibsen who wrote depressing-ass plays and now Cold Prey (2006). In solidarity with Stacie Ponder's Final Girl Film Club I thought I'd give this one a whirl. It's got pretty great reviews and I love me some slasher fun. And there's snow! It's like The Shining allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll over again.

Best. Stink. Eye. EVAR!

Well.... ish. The story is basic. Hot Norwegians go skiing. The least attractive one breaks his leg (bone poking out and all) and the group is forced to take shelter. They stumble upon an abandoned hotel, a seemingly perfect place to crash, attend to their friend and fornicate before getting help. Winning, right? Actually no. So no. It's the opposite of winning. Not just because of the tacky decor but because there's a crazy man who lives there who will eventually show himself and pick them off one by one.

Now if you troll the interwebs you'll find a lot of people hailing this as a slasher classic. My problem is that it absorbs all the tropes of slasher films, directly ripping off Halloween and Friday the 13th, and sticking it against a snowy backdrop.

Director Roar Uthaug (interesting fact: that's also my middle name) makes every shot beautiful. It adds a lot of class to this by-the-book slasher. Writer Thomas Moldestad attempts to deviate from the slasher mold by making the audience wait 45 minutes until the first kill. I assume this is so we care about the characters but the characters are dull. They're just regular 20-somethings with regular boring 20-something problems. I was actually relieved when the killings started because it meant the plot would actually be forced to move forward.

Now... let's talk about the killer. I have never been less scared of a killer. And I get scared easily. Some guy with a bunch of furs on with a normal looking birthmark over one of his eyes does not scare me. Perhaps it's because we get some many full body shots of him rather than teases at something creepier but he did not do it for me. It looks like my uncle went for a walk in a snowstorm.

Now we all know how these movies end. People die till there's a girl left standing. She "kills" the baddie and tra-la-la continues on her merry way. Well, until she gets picked off in one of the sequels. Which brings me to das sequel Cold Prey 2: Resurrection, the totally-necessary-and-not-at all-cash-grab of a sequel.

Cold Prey 2 picks off immediately where Cold Prey left off and continues merrily on the away to Halloween 2 Land. Final Girl is found, taken to the same hospital as the Killer and more deaths ensue. I appreciate that they try to explain the background of the unthreatening killer and making some kind of socio-economic point about Norwegian health care, but for realz, we've all been to this rodeo before.

Unless you're one of those weirdos that think slashers started with Scream. Then I just feel bad for you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Not To Do In A Remake

Remakes are not a new subject here in Scare-Tactic Land (or as I like to call it, AlexAmazeballLand where the inhabitants ride around on panthers and everyone automatically gets a 401K, but I digress) but I constantly feel the need to touch on them, mainly because they are re-writing horror history in shitty shitty ways.

My last post was about one of my favourite films, Black Christmas. Out of curiosity I watched Black Christmas the 2006 remake (or as it's so cleverly called "Black Xmas") and to be fair to the movie I found it so awful I turned it off half way through. Maybe it gets better in the last half?

Probably not.

I don't know if it's the state of humanity but holy hell do these characters whine a lot. They are the least pro-active hurtbags ever. Expect for maybe in the Halloween remake. Or the Friday the 13th remake. Or the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. In the original Black Christmas a sorority house receives threatening phone calls that refer to "Billy" and "Agnes" and the killing of a child. In the remake the filmmakers go into explicit detail about some entirely random, pointless and un-scary back story about Agnes and Billy.  I've argued time and again, what makes something scary is your own mind. Because what's scary to me might not be scary to you. Ambiguity is key.

Now I can rant and rave King Lear stylez all I want but then it does indeed become sound and noise that signifies nothing. Then I'm just part of the problem. So here are some helpful tips (in my mind) about what and what not to do when you remake a horror film.

1. For the love of everything that is good, stay away from the classics!
There's no point. If the original is beloved why remake it? Why not write your own goddamn horror story? (Platinum Dunes, I'm looking at you) Remakes that work like The Fly are awesome because there are inherent flaws in the original and when you have an auteur like David Cornenberg you say, let's do this!!!!! When you get bored sitting on your pile of money and randomly start searching IMDB for Horror Movies don't remake something that re-defined the genre. And for heaven's sake don't let the guy who directed the video of Smells Like Teen Spirit do it. He couldn't even get Kurt Cobain to get his hair out of his eyes!

Well, he couldn't.

2. No one cares about the Killer's back story. 
Seriously. We don't. Rob Zombie should work on remixes of Dragula or whatever else he did before he decided to remake the Halloween series. No, I don't care that Michael Myers was a sad kid. I really really don't. Lots of people have sad childhood and don't go around stabbing people. Just give me evil. Pure unadulterated evil.

3. Hire actors of a certain caliber. 
I'm not sure if the original Halloween would have been as good without Jamie Lee Curtis. Her version of Laurie Strode is a fully formed character. Rob Zombie's Laurie is a simpering idiot incapable of finding shirts to fit her. Jeff Goldblum is an all around great actor but he brings so much to the character of Seth in The Fly that you forget everything about the original.

4. Don't try to be clever.
Post-modernism (or "po-mo" if you want me to smack you) is killing every art form. Scream used it to propel the plot forward. Remakes seem to love to use winks and nods to the audience to show that they know that you know that they know that they're doing a remake. You know what? If you're making a movie and you don't know that you're making a movie, well, I just feel bad for you. Seriously. Every time a film stops to comment on itself the tension and tone of that movie is mainly lost. And, y'know, I'd hazard a guess that those two elements are kind of important.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Christmas I gave you my heart, the very next day you suffocated me with a dry cleaning bag.

This post was meant to go up yesterday as it was Canada Day but in between helping friends move, saying goodbye to a friend going traveling and other various festivities it simply didn't happen. But here we are. I did manage to catch a free screening of Bob Clark's 1974 masterpiece Black Christmas and oh baby was I ever feeling national pride walking out of that.

Black Christmas is set in a sorority house that's been receiving obscene phone calls for the past while. The sorority sisters take the calls, some deeming them funny others feeling the impending dread coming. As the events spin out of control the audience is privy to the fact that indeed the calls are coming from inside the house. Simple, non? Well, not exactly. Black Christmas is a classic because it broke the mold on slasher films, created tropes that would be repeated endlessly, brought some terrific performances and is creepy as fuck well before John Carpenter got around to doing it.

If you've seen any of the Holy Grail slasher (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street) you'll be able to pick out its characteristics in no time. The POV killer scenes, the killer with a violent past, the inept authority figures, having John Saxon in it,  and the Final Girl. Now, in almost every other slasher flick the Final Girl (the character who survives the traumatic events of the film, almost always female) is virginal and pure. In Black Christmas they subvert that right at the beginning having the virginal good girl die first and having the Final Girl figure contemplate having an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy throughout the film. This is both the antithesis of what we've come to accept as a Final Girl, yet also one of the best representations of it. Olivia Hussey's Jess is fragile and delicate but her transformation into someone who fights back is just as believable.

Bob Clark's direction is spot on devoting equal amounts of time to the goings on in the sorority house, the Killer and the disappearance of girls that begins to effect the outside community. Clark knows where the terror lies in pieces like this. It lies in the expectations of the audience and the lack of knowledge that the characters posses. Anticipation can be a bitch.

The script by Roy Moore, though having huge gaps in logic, does a fantastic job of developing each sorority sister into a full fledged human being and giving weight to the horror of the film while also imbuing it with comedic moments.

Remember when characters smoked in movies? Instant street cred.
 Black Christmas is a true horror classic in every sense of the word. So much so that the unfortunate remake brought about more love for the original. Without Black Christmas the horror landscape would be completely different from how we know it today. It would be so different that I don't even want to imagine it.

Black Christmas, I stand on guard for thee.