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Horror

Silent Hill

dir: Christophe Gans
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There really isn’t any logic to the way producers think making a film out of a computer game will work at the box office. Sure, it’ll get them extra money, but rarely does it result in anything worth watching in any state apart from being drunk. From Super Mario Brothers onwards, the vast majority of computer games transferred to the silver screen have stunk like a crate full of decaying skunks.

Look at the illustrious list of movies that have undergone this transformation from nerd property to mass entertainment: Doom, Resident Evil, House of the Dead, Bloodrayne, Alone in the Dark, Wing Commander, Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter, Tomb Raider 1 & 2. Were any of these films watchable in any state apart from being drunk? And would humanity be any worse off if these films were never made and the actors and directors responsible for them were banished to a lower level of hell?

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Saw III

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
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Saw III, which is currently dominating the US box office, might actually be an okay movie. It might even be better a better movie than Saw II, which goes against the Law of Sequels that states as more sequels get made, the quality declines exponentially.

Even if that is the case, it still does not make this a good horror movie.

If horror movies are meant to scare audiences, to instil fear in them, by that standard Saw III is a failure. Because as uncomfortable as it is to watch people being torn apart or tormented by complicated machines, and as disgusting as some of the scenes in this movie are, they are not actually scary. We are not afraid about what is going to happen to most of the people who are introduced into the story only to die a few minutes later. Because they’re not characters, on the most part, they’re just props whose usefulness is soon to end.

In that sense, identifying with any of the characters in these flicks is virtually impossible, which means their ultimate fates are only of mild interest to the audience.

Saw III also goes to extraordinary lengths to tie up loose ends from the earlier movies, even to the extent that a major plot hole identified by many audience members after enduring the first instalment is not only referenced but dealt with.

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Slither

dir: James Gunn
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Sure, some horror flicks are dumb. And some are derivative. Sometimes they’re dumb and derivative at the same time. But they can be entertaining.

There’s not a single original idea in this flick, not for a second of it. And the story is the laziest amalgam of generic genre horror television and movies ideas and clichés from X-Files episodes, The Blob, Tremors, Cronenberg’s Shivers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and probably dozens of other crapfests. There is also a cheap feel to the proceedings, the CGI work is lame, and the flick is so predictable I felt like I’d watched the flick before I’d actually watched it.

But, and this is a big but, I still found it sporadically entertaining. I got a few laughs out of it, and there are only two real reasons why the movie works, if in fact it does at all.

One is that the script has obviously been compiled by horror film geeks with an ear for the genre. So some of the quips and lines are amusing. They won’t result in legions of viewers being admitted to hospital in need of stiches for their ruptured sides, but they don’t do too badly.

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Descent, The

dir: Neil Marshall
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Decent horror flicks are few and far between. The Descent is a decent descent into both the earth and the murky depths of the human soul, descending as it does from done-to-death horror staples, but remade in such a way as to make it more than an exercise in repetition.

When you hear a premise like ‘Six women go on a cave expedition that goes horribly wrong”, the first thing you expect, when you’ve seen as many trashy flicks as I have, is that it’ll mostly be about scantily clad women getting their tops wet and/or off, writhing around with each other in between pillow fights, pedicures and giving each other massages and drunken fistings.

Or, it’d be about women banding together to fight off predatory men, strengthen the bonds of sisterhood and to affirm that the Thelmas and Louises are doing it for themselves, or to themselves, or each other, in between teary arguments and lots of chocolate eating.

Neither, fortunately or unfortunately, apply here. This is played as a straight horror flick, with no knowing nods to the audience, and a grim and claustrophobic aesthetic that permeates throughout. It also doesn’t stint on the gore, for those that like their horror gruesome and bloody.

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Hills Have Eyes, The

dir: Alexandre Aja
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Ah, the art of the pointless remake. Why not endlessly repeat the actions of others? Maybe I should invent the light bulb again, or write, direct and star in a film called Citizen Kane. Tell me you don’t get a tingle in a bad place over the idea.

Since everything else is being remade and redone, why not remake Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes from the 70s? Craven also produced this remake, meaning he couldn’t be bothered directing it himself (how many directors remake their own films anyway?), but is more than happy to collect the fat pay-check from this renovated cinema nasty.

They hired French horror director Alexandre Aja to helm this little slice of viciousness, whose previous work Haute Tension proved, if nothing else, that he can construct a very nasty death scene. Sure, so High Tension, as us non-Francophones would know it, had the laziest plot twist imaginable, and little going for it except extreme gore, but it certainly delivered as a macabre horror film should. It also looked a treat as well.

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Hostel

dir: Eli Roth
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Hostel is about so much more than just the horror. It’s more like bumping into an unpleasant ex at a party who gives you a blow-by-blow explanation of just why every single little aspect of your relationship sucked. Without any blow-by-blow, but with plenty of bringing the pain.

Oodles of pain. There is viciousness here, but it’s really not as bad as you’ve heard. It veers off into cartoonish violence and gore which undercuts its overall effect, but it’s still pretty compelling in setting up its fucked-up premise. Director Eli Roth has done substantially better here than he did with his awful debut Cabin Fever, but he’s got far more money and obviously far more leeway as well to tell this diabolical tale.

The essential thing to remember is that this grindhouse, grindcore flick is not for any other audience other than an American one. Sure, they sent copies of the flick out here for our drooling masses to drool over, but it’s very much a product of a certain place and time, calculated to derive a certain feeling. And that feeling is the dread of what other people want to do to you because you’re American.

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Ring II, The

dir: Hideo Nakata
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The onslaught of Japanese horror remakes marches inexorably on. Strictly speaking this is a sequel to a remake, but there’s a Japanese Ringu 2, and it was directed by the same guy that directed this, but it’s a different story (kinda) and, oh fuck it, it’s making my head hurt already. Look, it’s a sequel to the Hollywood Ring film, that’s all you need to know at this stage. It has nothing to do with the Lord of the Rings movies, The Ringmaster, Postman Always Rings Twice, Ring of Fire, Ring King, Ring Ring, or Ring-a-Ding Ding. So don’t be too disappointed.

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Saw II

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
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The question was never “Will it be as good as Saw?” It was more along the lines of “Can they come up with a ending even dumber and more insulting that the first one?”

What Saw had going for it a macabre sense of humour, a diseased looking mise en scene and ‘scary’ dark cinematography, and a sense of menace and cruel irony. It had against it some truly terrible acting and an ending which did the equivalent of throwing up in the audience’s lap when the issue regarding the villain was revealed as having less to do with his identity, and more to do with his location.

Saw II has against it the fact that it is a sequel to a flick that really didn’t deserve to become such a hit in the first place, and one that wasn’t really crying out for a sequel anyway. When a flick is as cheap as Saw was, the overheads are so low that the company picking it up for distribution can afford to promote the hell out of it because they’ve only paid a piddling amount for it in the first place.

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Exorcism of Emily Rose, The

dir: Scott Derrickson
[img_assist|nid=921|title=Some demon keeps stealing my underwear|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
The makers claim from the outset that the film is based on a true story. The “true” story involves a German woman called Annaleise Michel who died in the 70s, whom her family and a bunch of priests believe was possessed by a bunch of demons.

Not just any demons, but the demons that possessed Hitler, Nero, and also Lucifer, who might have just been along for the ride.

The medical types, being the killjoys that they are, believed her to be an epileptic with schizophrenia. When she died, after nearly a year of malnutrition and weekly exorcisms, the authorities stepped in and charged two priests and the girl’s parents with negligent homicide.

The story is transplanted to the US, her name is changed to Emily Rose, the charge is applied to just the priest, Father Moore (dependable Tom Wilkinson), and the “truth” of the girl’s story is laid out for us, the questioning audience, to work out for ourselves.

That is, at least, what they would have you believe. The story from the outset leaves you in no doubt as to what they want you to believe is the “truth” of the matter. And in case you don’t get it, the signposts put up at the end put it beyond rational doubt.

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Land of the Dead

dir: George A. Romero
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The “master” is back, as if he ever really went away.

Romero is revered as a god of horror films, and many see the zombie genre especially to be his baby. If anyone has the right to screw with the conventions of a genre, you’d think it’d be the guy who built it all up in his own image.

Before Romero’s movies, zombies didn’t crave flesh and brains: they craved strangling people like the Mummy in ancient horror flicks. Post Romero they became the primal, ugly aspect of humanity let loose upon an effete, consumerism-obsessed society.

In 2005, zombies are the excuse for Romero making a film Marx and adherents of the dialectical materialist view of human history would be proud of. Damn proud. It’s enough to make you pull out your old Soviet flag, your copy of Das Kapital, and sing the Internationale, you goddamn pinko commie bastards!

Where the original Dawn was satire (of mindless consumerism, apparently), and last year’s remake was more straightforward action / horror, Land of the Dead is more of a straight allegory. There’s no great subtlety to this, or obscure subtext symbolism: it’s obvious and overt. It doesn’t detract from it, but it certainly is a departure from the other zombie flicks Romero has inflicted upon willing audiences.

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