Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
Is Zombie horror's great hope or proof of the genre's decline? Depends who you ask.
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
My absolute favorite thing about Rob Zombie?
On his IMDb page, under "alternate names," he actually has a fake middle name. Robert Wolfgang Zombie. That is endlessly funny.
Rob Zombie as a filmmaker embodies many of the things that I think are endemic of fandom at large right now, both in his work and in the reaction that work seems to elicit, both positive and negative. As a result, I think it's silly for any critic to dismiss Zombie out-of-hand, just as I think it's silly for anyone to proclaim him one of the greats, or even argue that the work he's done so far is across-the-board significant.
I didn't review "Halloween 2" when it opened because, frankly, I wasn't invited to see it before it opened. Fair enough. I paid. And at the time, I didn't know if I'd even bother writing about it, but since 'tis the season, I thought I'd take a look at the state of Zombie's career in general as one of the HorrorFest entries.
I haven't spent a ton of time writing about Rob Zombie as a filmmaker so far, but on those occasions I have, I think it's been fair, different from film to film. I liked "House Of 1000 Corpses" and thought it was an effective piece of side-of-the-road porno-funhouse fluff. I thought "The Devil's Rejects" was better. Not genius, but solid, upsetting, and it seemed to indicate that he was growing from film to film. I was interested to see what sort of original stuff he had planned.
And then it's like he chickened out.
Another 'classic' TV movie from the '70s revisited
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
One of the earliest titles I did in this series this month was a look at the Warner Archives release of "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," a '70s TV movie that has a passionate cult audience that remembers the film from childhood. The other title they sent me at the same time has a similar nostalgic charge for audiences, and again, I knew the film by name and reputation, but I never saw it back when it originally aired, so I came to it fresh.
"Bad Ronald" is one of those films that I've had many people mention to me over the years as a film that terrified them when they saw it, and that they would love to own or to see again. My advice to those people is to leave it as a memory, because I doubt it's going to terrify anyone who sees it now. It's not a bad film, per se, but it's also not very scary. More than anything, it's a sad little film about a kid who makes one terrible choice and then pays for it with everything he has.
Scott Jacoby stars as Ronald Wilby, a high school outsider who lives with his mother. His dad is long-since-gone, having accepted a payoff of $30,000 from his mother to just disappear and never come back. Ronald's a fantasy-minded kid, constantly drawing and imagining his own magical kingdom, but he knows that his mother wants him to grow up to be a doctor. He loves her and wants to do what she asks, but he's also trying to find a way to reach out to his peers and be part of the group.
On the afternoon of his birthday, he goes to see a neighbor he's got a crush on, and when she rejects him in front of a bunch of friends, mid-pool party, Ronald storms off. He runs into her younger sister on the way home, and when she calls him "weird" and insults his mother, he snaps, and he throws her off her bike. She hits her head on a concrete block, and when Ronald realizes she's dead, he makes the worst choice of his life. He buries her, then heads home to tell his mother what he's done.
How much difference does the unrated BluRay make?
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
So why did I circle back around to discuss "Drag Me To Hell" one last time this year? I reviewed it out of SXSW, I wrote about it again when it came out theatrically, and now, it's on DVD and BluRay, and I could easily just put it in my weekly DVD column and be done with it.
But a big part of the marketing on this home video release is that this is the "Unrated" version, promising a whole new crazy revamp of the moviet that will be much harder, much wilder. That's the come-on, right? Whenever you see any movie on home video that is "unrated," aren't they sort of implying that what you're going to see if you watch this verion is a film that no theater could handle?
What's the truth, then? Is "Drag Me To Hell" significantly different in its unrated form?
You could just compare running times. You'll notice a different of five or six minutes sometimes, or when you're lucky a huge difference, like whole subplots or major scenes reinstated. But with "Drag Me To Hell," the running times between the two versions are identical. To the minute. So... what's the deal?
It was Stephen Sommers who explained it to me one time, and ever since then, I've kept what he said in mind and paid attention to films that straddle that PG-13/R line, and I think he's right. He said that as he was tweaking "The Mummy" for the ratings board, it became clear to him that the thing that made the difference in the rating was how wet something was. He shows a fair amount of violence in the "Mummy" films, but because he keeps most of the violence dry, using either no blood or blood that is any color but red, he is able to get away with more. If he made the exact same film and then added wet red blood, it would tip his film into the R category easily. Sam Raimi seems to be well aware of the rules, and when you compare the two cuts, what you come away with is a solid education in just how arbitrary the MPAA's rules truly are.
We sit down in Texas to discuss the undead, mentors, and improv
When I was in Austin for Fantastic Fest, one of the big screenings was for "The Vampire's Assistant," which Universal hopes will jumpstart a "Cirque Du Freak" series for them based on the books by Darren Shan. Like John Dies At The End, which I reviewed yesterday, the main character in the books is also the author, and in this case, Darren Shan is the one who meets a vampire and ends up becoming his assistant.
And the vampire? John C. Reilly.
Reilly's been a hard-working character actor for the last 20 years, since his fantastic debut in Brian De Palma's "Casualties Of War." In some ways, "The Vampire's Assistant" marks new ground for him as an actor, but I think over the course of his career, he's managed to reinvent himself repeatedly, and he seems like the kind of guy you can't really put in a simple box. That's the secret to his longevity, and it keeps each new performance interesting.
Of course, since I've wanted to meet him and chat with him for a while, when I finally did, I was in no shape to be talking to anyone. Midway through the screening of "The Vampire's Assistant," I could feel a headache coming on. And not just a headache, either. I started to get chills, and my temperature started to climb. By the time the movie ended, I could barely see. I took off my hat and it was like someone poured a cup of water on me, I was sweating so badly. I ran to a drugstore down the street from the Paramount, bought some Advil and some diet-flavored caffeine, and then walked back to the Intercontinental Hotel, where I was supposed to talk to the actor. Over the next half-hour, it was sort of touch and go, and then finally, still feeling fairly wretched, I decided to just deal with it and do the interview when Reilly showed up.
I was going to forego the handshake, just so I didn't give him the Swine Flu or whatever it was I was grappling with, but as you'll see, he chose to flirt with doom:
Can a casual viewer jump back in and keep up with horror's most complicated franchise?
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
Oh, my. I had no idea how much work it was going to be to step back in and review the newest film in the long-running "Saw" series.
I didn't intentionally sit the series out, but I also didn't make any big effort to catch up with them at any point, either. The last "Saw" film that I know for sure I saw was the second one. I think maybe I saw "Saw III" at some point, but I couldn't swear to it in court. I definitely didn't see the fourth or fifth one. I just felt like I got the point already, and I didn't find the films to be fun or interesting. I could see why you might enjoy them if you buy into Jigsaw as a character and the underlying mythology of what his big plan is and why he's doing it, but I wasn't convinced that there was a righteous anger to the character, no matter how hard the series tried to convince me there was.
So when I was sent the invite for "Saw VI," I almost didn't go. And then my sister-in-law, who lives with us, found out I had an invite to the new "Saw" film and went, to put it politely, berserk. She's a big fan of the series, and she basically informed me that I had no choice but to go with her to see the film, and if I tried to get out if, she knows where I sleep.
I sent a Tweet to Scott Weinberg, horror nerd supreme, because I know he's a fan of the films, and I asked him if he could give me a short primer on what I'd missed so I wouldn't be too lost, and I was promptly hit with a ton of replies from people telling me that I'd never be able to figure it out because of how complicated and continuity-heavy the films have become. I was worried, too, based on how many of those responses I got. I figured if I needed help, my sister-in-law knows the movies well enough that she could explain things to me.
Internet novel finds a mainstream publisher
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
It's been a long strange journey so far for John Dies At The End and its author, "David Wong," and there's still plenty of journey ahead. I'm late to the party, but now that I've read the book, I'm onboard, and I am ready to recruit others this horror world equivalent to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Jason Pargin is editor-in-chief of the very funny Cracked.com, and it should come as no surprise that he was able to write a very funny supernatural novel, using the internet to self-publish starting back in 2001. It's impressive, though, that he was able to create a novel that feels organically scary without sacrificing any of the absurdist attitude, and that the book continues to have a life above and beyond that original online publication. Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli is set to turn the book into a film, and is hard at work on the script right now. And now, St. Martin's Press has just issued the book as a hardcover edition that collects and refines the online version of the novel, and which they sent to me for review.
David Wong is not just Pargin's pseudonym, he's also the narrator and main character in the book. He goes from being a normal midwestern dude working a crappy job to being a supernatural warrior trying to head off an invasion of our dimension with only his best friend John to help him. Their adventure brings them in contact with all sorts of crazy monsters, alternate worlds, a mysterious drug called "soy sauce," Shadow Men, Molly the Dog, demons, and a bad guy named Korrock who exists in all worlds at once. If there's any negative I'd offer up about the book, its origins as a serial show a bit in the way it sort of keeps lurching forward breathlessly with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and with a sort of barrage of ideas that isn't paced in any traditional narrative manner.
A new BluRay and a new annotated edition illuminate two takes on the classic tale
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
Two things arrived in the mail in quick succession recently, and it seemed like a lovely bit of synchronicity. First up, Sony sent the BluRay of Kenneth Branagh's version of "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," and I decided to brave it out and watch the film for the first time since it was released in theaters.
Second, Vintage Classics sent me a new paperback edition of the book, and I almost just tossed it on a shelf without looking at it. I've got several copies of the book in the house already, and I couldn't imagine why a new edition would be newsworthy. Then I happened to glance at it a little closer and I realized that I don't have this book in the house yet, and that it was indeed newsworthy.
Charles E. Robinson is sort of an expert on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He's spent much of his career helping to sort out the true creative origins of the book, and also trying to sort out what, if anything, is the definitive version of the novel. With this new edition, he's finally cracked it, I think, and the result is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the creative process and in historical mythmaking. In this new edition, Robinson presents two distinct versions of the book. The first is the original manuscript written by Mary Shelley, reproduced exactly here with punctuation and spelling issues intact. The second is the manuscript that was created by Mary Shelley and her husband Percy, working together, which is something I never realized before.
Makes sense, I guess. He was, after all, already an acclaimed and published author, and she was a girl who met him at sixteen, when he was already famous. There is no doubt that the spine and the soul of Frankenstein is hers when you read this new edition, but looking at the work he did suggests that the story might never have seen publication at that time without his help. Their collaboration made a huge difference to the overall finish of the book, and it is that version which first made its way into publication.
Undead buddy comedy defies easy description to excellent effect
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
One of the films that played Fantastic Fest also played the LA Screamfest this week, and there are reports that the version that's playing is a work in progress, a little different and a little more finished each of the times it's screened. For the purposes of this review, I'll be discussing the version that played in Austin last month.
Not that anyone involved should worry. The film plays, and if they're fine-tuning it, that just means it's going to play even better. One would hope, anyway.
"The Revenant" is a movie that covers a lot of genre territory, shifting gears narratively several times over the course of the film. One of the things I admire most about it is the way the film seems sort of fearless in regards to tone. Bart (David Anders) goes off to war. Bart comes home in a box. Bart's best friend Joey (Chris Wylde) and Bart's girlfriend Janet (Louise Griffiths) are broken up about it. Bart comes back, and he goes to Joey for help.
When I say "Bart comes back," I mean " from the freakin' grave," of course, since this is ostensibly a horror film. There's no explanation or backstory to why he comes back, which is just the first of many choices that I think make the film work. By leaving out any elaborate mythology, the film focuses instead on the human-scale implications of a return from the grave. There are rules, but they take a while to sort out for Bart. He eventually realizes that he needs to drink human blood to keep from decomposing. After a drink, he looks almost alive again, but when he's desperately in need of a drink, he looks horrible, rotten, decayed. Even worse, when it's daylight, Bart appears to be dead, immobile and without any signs of life. It's only when the sun goes down that he is able to move about on his own.
Paramount becomes studio #3 to take a shot at the franchise
Wow, that's a lot of money.
Paramount Pictures has closed a deal to pay $60 million so that they now have the right to produce new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films and TV shows. I'm sure Nickelodeon will make a fine eventual home for the Turtles, and that we'll see at least one or two theatrical films about the characters, but is that enough to justify that price tag for a property that's already seen at least four film incarnations and been exploited in games, TV, books, and toys for over 20 years?
We'll find out in 2012.
I suspect that answer is "yes." It's hard to believe how big the property continues to be, especially considering the underground smart-ass roots of the comic, but it has been a consistent earner over the years, and awareness of the title remains incredibly high. My son, who has never seen a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" film all the way through, knows the characters on sight and by name and can probably put his hands on a dozen toy versions of the characters here in the house right this moment. They are culturally huge by sheer osmosis, just by virtue of hanging around as long as they have.
Development is already underway on the first new "Turtles" film and the first new "Turtles" TV show, both eyeing a 2012 release date, and I expect Paramount and Nickelodeon will spend much of the time between now and then slowly building their presence on every Viacom owned media outlet in the world, making them quietly omnipresent so when those new projects are released, it will be to an audience that already feels like the Turtles are part of their daily lives.
Can Joe Johnston resurrect this classic Universal monster?
I like it.
I think this film is going to be pure surface. I've heard enough about it now to set my expectations at a certain level and hope that what this trailer promises is what the film actually delivers: a weird, creepy reinvention of one of the most iconic and personal of all the Universal monsters. Benicio Del Toro looks deranged in the movie, and he has the exact same sort of permanent sadness that Lon Chaney Jr. always had. Even as a kid, watching those films, I felt like Chaney was so raw it was almost embarrassing.
This new trailer has a modern score, and it sells the imagery harder than any earlier trailer or footage we've seen. It still saddens me that much of Rick Baker's original physical make-up has been augmented with CGI... but I can't lie... some of what I see in this trailer is working for me. It's weird. It's dark. It's somehow sort of degenerate. Hopkins looks like he's playing a glorious scumbag. Anyone want to bet on the source of the curse?
I know this film's had a ton of post-production work done, a lot of additional photography, new sequences, rethinking, and reworking. It's moved release dates several times, finally landing at the start of 2010. I'm curious to see how much of Mark Romanek's work on the film in pre-production actually made it through in the finished style. It really doesn't look or feel anything like Johnston's other films.
The high-def version of the trailer, the one you absolutely should be watching, is at Apple.com right now. Seriously... go watch that one. It's the right way to see it.