Saturday, 26 January 2013

Scream 2 (1997)

As much as I revel in discovering some new piece of celluloid trash, I tend to stay away from sequels in general and especially horror sequels. It just seems too easy. But I (have you heard this one before?) found Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997) on VHS and felt obligated to check it out, since the original Scream so roundly exceeded my expectations. I am subsequently obliged to report that Scream 2 not only exceeded my expectations (which were, to be fair, minimal), but succeeded -- and failed -- in ways even more intriguing than the original Scream.

Let's scream again like we did last summer.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is trying to lie low and put her bloody, final-girl past behind her by becoming a drama student at Windsor College (having been a theatre major myself I can confirm that this is indeed a speedy path to probable irrelevance). Unfortunately, yellow journalist Gale Weathers's (Courteney Cox) tell-all book about the Woodsboro murders has been adapted into a film called Stab, the premiere of which spurs a spurt of copycat killings. Sidney carts around Windsor watching her friends get murdered and being very pretentious until she decides enough is enough and dispatches the new Ghostface (until sequels three and four, anyway). The end, ish.

Scream 2 is so fucking smart it just doesn't know what to do with itself. It's a veritable pinata of defied expectations. The first kill, as lovingly lingered over as any in the canon, is a guy (Phil, played by House's Omar Epps). Take that, Laura Mulvey! The second kill (Jada Pinkett Smith as the brassy-sassy Maureen) eschews dark alleys and grimy basements for a crowded movie premiere. Then Buffy Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leads a come-at-me-bro list of sequel cliches (not all of which Scream 2 avoids, but good of them to admit it up front). The meta shenanigans slow down a little during the bloody middle, but they're back for the climax (which is satisfying as ever).

I will say that Scream 2 wasn't quite as much fun as Scream, partly because I had a little more time to get attached to the main characters and wasn't quite as keen to see them die horribly. But it's a sequel that, in its own right, is better than a whole lot of standalone horror flicks I've seen. So, basically, go see it... that's all I wanted to say, folks. Except that I wish people would put Sarah Michelle Gellar in movies again. (Have you seen her in Girl Talk? Tragi-adorable).

"Who, us?"

FINAL GIRL: I think the first two Screams might actually be unique in having not one final girl, but a team (final sisters, if you will): Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers. I love what the idea of "Final Girls", plural, does to the there-can-be-only-one implicit misogyny in the concept of the last girl standing... especially because demure, virginal Sidney and brash, narcissistic Gale are so obviously playing for opposing teams (moral-wise) that it is necessary that they come to blows at least once per film.

Totally, utterly necessary.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Frightmare (2000)

As baseline production values in commercial cinema improve, the goalpost for quality moves. Therefore, you need to adjust bad movies for inflation, just like currency. The special effects in King Kong (1933) are objectively inferior to those in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), but judged in its creative context, the former is a better movie. I bring this up only because, properly adjusted for cinematic "inflation", Frightmare (Ash Smith, 2000) might be the worst movie I've ever seen.

Yeah, I went there.
What is the plot of Frightmare? I watched it twenty-four hours ago and I've already forgotten. There are some teenagers in a town called Sugar Hill trying to finance their spring break in the Cayman Islands through a haunted house fundraiser.... there's renegade psychopath called the "Conscience Killer"... there's a rave... a car breaks down... there are extended shots of cockroaches crawling around on the floor of an abandoned house... nope, I've got nothing.

I've never seen most of the movies popularly held up as the "worst ever" (The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, Troll 2, etc.), so I'm by no means the ultimate authority on bad movies. But Frightmare, you know... it's really, really bad. And it's bad in that adorable early 2000s way: the "hardcore" typeface on the intro credits, the NIN-lite background music, the needless zoom shots, handheld camera footage, and jump cuts. Frightmare wants to be 3/4 Scream and 1/4 I Know What You Did Last Summer, with the power tool dance from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in for good measure: but it's actually eerily like what would happen if the creative team responsible for the "Piracy: It's a Crime" ads were asked to make a feature length horror film.

I got Frightmare on VHS and paid twenty cents for it, which feels right in retrospect. I can't in good faith recommend it, but it had its moments (and - gore warning! - a hilariously accurate one-liner from the killer).

Some mornings I feel like that too.
FINAL GIRL: Shanda Besler as Sarah Falls. Shanda had a career after Frightmare, but she had to change her name to do it.