Monday, 30 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Hipster darling Joss Whedon co-wrote this self-conscious deconstruction of the horror genre (Drew Goddard, 2012) and even though some other guy directed, his fingerprints are still all over it. Soulful underdog wisecracker? Check. Improbable ass-kicking waif? Check. Potshots at organized religion? Check. Amy Acker? Check. Nice to see you, Mr. Whedon. Congratulations on discovering a genre in which needlessly slaughtering your characters is de rigeur.

"Maybe we should have gone on a road trip."
Actually I quite liked The Cabin in the Woods, which manages to put a novel spin on the Horny Kids, Isolated Location formula. University buddies Dana (the wallflower), Curt (the jock), Jules (the dead tramp walking), Marty (the class clown) and Holden (the sensitive guy) trek out to the boondocks with a keg of beer and start getting slaughtered long before they realize that the worst thing about their situation is not the homicidal pilgrim zombies on their trail.

I won't give away the twist ending. It's barely worth protecting, though. The Cabin in the Woods' last fifteen minutes are a train wreck, because the film chooses the grandiose Hollywood finish over one which provides the story with actual closure. Whedon and Goddard overreach themselves, introducing too many plot elements and not explaining any of them. True, a few plotholes are forgivable, even expected, in your standard horror movie. But a movie that aims to tear down and rebuild horror cliches needs to be watertight. The Cabin in the Woods is enjoyable if you don't think about it, but the more questions you ask about the world it builds, the less well it holds together. Up until your brain clocks in, though, it's a fun ride, made all the better if you've seen enough horror to recognize the references (in some ways, The Cabin in the Woods is just a big in-joke for horror fans).

The Cabin in the Woods gets a 4/5 from me, but this is satire, not horror; the scares are scarce and largely incidental. Plot holes aside, the central premise makes this one of the most clever movies I've seen in theatres for a long time, even if the plot does eventually paint itself into a corner. Too bad about that, too. A long string of sequels would have been in keeping with the most hallowed and time-honored traditions of the slasher.

The anguish of the lost contact lens.

FINAL GIRL: Kristen Connolly as Dana, who I guess is the Felicia Day you get when Felicia Day is making Rock Jocks. Connolly is decent and forgettable, which is all she had to be. Whedon generally needs skilled elocutionists more than people who can actually act. As Harrison Ford said to George Lucas, "you can write this shit, but you sure can't say it." (I love you, Joss. Really).

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Amityville Horror (1979)

The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) tells the less than riveting tale of boring white-bread George and Kathy Lutz (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder), who move into a boring suburban house (played by a boring suburban house). The following "horrors" occur: there is a random draft. George Lutz is a dick to his wife. Money goes missing. A kindergartener invents an imaginary friend. A door sticks shut. A window sticks shut. Kathy Lutz sees a raccoon. If these are "horrors", my apartment needs an exorcist, so I suggest we retitle this movie The Amityville Annoyance.

"Oh god, our tap drips!"
There must have been some kind of a vogue in the 70s for representing life milestones like buying a house and having a baby as horrific ordeals (Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, and now this). Being part of a trend would start to explain why this Iconic Horror Classic is such a snoozer. It's less that there's anything wrong with The Amityville Horror than that there's nothing right with it. No scares, no T+A, no decent gore. It's just two hours of minor inconveniences occasionally juxtaposed with cheesy Catholic statues. I guess it's sort of creepy when the Lutzes find a hidden "Red Room" in their basement, but then Rosenberg ruins it by sticking a superimposed floating dream James Brolin Face on the wall. (As it happens, James Brolin looks hilariously undone in this movie: 3/4 Charles Manson, 1/4 John the Baptist).

The Amityville Horror gets a 2/5. If nothing else, it has decent production values: the blood looks pretty real, if you don't count the fact that it's oozing out of cracks in the stairs and not human beings. Also, when Kathy Lutz goes to the seminary to talk to Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) about her bad real estate, you can see a nun in the background playing basketball. That's got to count for something.

"Overgrown flower child? Me?"
FINAL GIRL: Margot Kidder as Kathy Lutz (no one actually dies in this movie, so she's less "Final Girl" and more "Irritating Lady We're Forced To Spend Two Hours With"). Rosenberg's got Kidder doing her whimsical best to out-waif Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby and in the process he keeps sticking her in ridiculous costumes: pigtails, schoolgirl skirt, knee socks, legwarmers, daisies and ribbons in hair. For real. Pigtails on a woman who is supposed to have three school-age children from a previous relationship and appears to be well into her thirties. Manic Pixie Dream Girl by way of the Mopey Pixie Nightmare Mom sub-species. Probably the scariest thing in the movie.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Blood Feast (1963)

In Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963), this Egyptian caterer called Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) stalks nubile virgins to sacrifice to the goddess Ishtar (played as convincingly by a tacky prop statue as she could have been by any other actress in the film). You can guess how this one goes without too much effort. Virgins are slain viciously, hot Playboy Bunny rejects frolick in a swimming pool, one blonde chick is rescued in the nick of time, Ramses gets his inevitable comeuppance, there is a lot of blood (I will not reveal whether it was feasted upon. Watch the movie yourself).

"Ugh! I feasted on too much blood!"
I really dug Blood Feast. It was classic grindhouse that promised gratuitous cheesecake and violence and delivered. Also, is it just me, or was Herschell Gordon Lewis a much better musician than he was a director? The movie itself falls into the So-Bad-It's-Good canon, but the soundtrack (which H. G. L. composed)  is funky Sixties Egyptian-inspired stuff and pretty great.

I give this one a 3/5. It is not a great movie. It is not even a good movie. But it's enjoyable, which is largely what matters. Bonus points to the mom character who responds to the news that her daughter has almost been brutally murdered by a crazed serial killer with a flustered "oh dear". And to that actor who plays the boyfriend of one of the murdered girls, fake-sobbing his way into cinema infamy. And to the aptly named Thomas Wood as Detective Pete Thornton. He can't act but at least he's consistent.

Somehow I doubt she's reading "The Empty Space".
FINAL GIRL: Ex-Playboy playmate Connie Mason as Suzette the life-size Barbie doll. Mason's got long blonde hair, is soaked in self-tanner and wears fluorescent pink costumes for the entire movie. Apparently she learned to act a little bit in between Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs (1964), because she's atrocious in this one whereas in 2000 Maniacs she's just regular bad.