Recent Horror Spotlights and Split Decisions
By Kristin Battestella
I spend most of my viewing time with older scares, horror classics, and cult favorites simply because there is so much of the same old slice and dice repetitive all gore and no substance drivel churned out in recent decades. Yeah. Fortunately, I’ve found a few contemporary treats and thrillers to satisfy the yearn for modern macabre- and some spookies on which I can’t decide!
Deadtime Stories Volume 1 – George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) hosts this 2009 trilogy of tales in quite the quirky fashion. His first story is a little ho hum- the typical tribal freaky and trying too hard to be too bizarre vein that any schooled horror anthology viewer will spot straightaway. Fortunately, our second story provides a very creepy mermaid- not the pretty tailed, glistening golden tresses hiding a be-sea shelled rack siren, oh no. Some of the onscreen legend might be confusing, but the coastal and solitary suspense makes up the difference. Saving the best for last, Deadtime Number 3 is a great backwoods old school vampire scary. The abstract but period setting and tintype looking photography and colors make this one extra sweet. The dialogue and plot really had me going as to who was actually what- and it was downright spooky!
Hannibal – This 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs obviously has big shoes to fill. Thankfully and blessedly, Giancarlo Giannini (Casino Royale) is great, and the Italian scenery is flat out awesome. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) is sleazy and so much fun while the twisted Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is unrecognizable. Even in the shadow of prior Clarice Starling Oscar winner Jodie Foster, Julianne Moore (The Hours) shapes her own Clarice beautifully. And but of course returning Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins is wonderful. He is without a doubt the star here, and does the most in what seems like less screen time. The one on one dialogue and action sequences are perfect, with fine suspense pacing, intelligentsia horror, class, sexy, and gore. Unfortunately, however great the performances are in getting there, the storyline does meander. Director Ridley Scott’s (Blade Runner) ending is somewhat flat and leaves a ‘What was the point of all this?’ feeling. Nevertheless, I applaud the twisted romantic aspects and creepy for adults only production. Twilight wishes it could be like this.
Red Dragon- Naturally then, I must also talk about Anthony Hopkins’ sweet 2002 prequel, co-starring everybody from Oscar nominees Harvey Keitel (Bugsy) and Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) to Oscar nominees Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) and Edward Norton (American History X). Norton is believably badass and sympathetic as both as the on screen agent prior to Starling and the actor following both Clarices. The murder mystery suspense and psychological games are alluring and complex. We’re going somewhere concrete with a case to solve and it all leads up nice and tidy to Lambs. Oh, did I forget to mention Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Emmy winner Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds). Must I go on?
Crush (2009) – Well, I’ve never seen a karate tournament in a horror movie before, and there’s really no room for it, lengthy credits, and too many establishing music montages in an 87 minute film. We’re also crowded with a lot of clichés: the usual American in a foreign country scary house intrigue, a dark haired chick in a red bikini automatically meaning trouble, more Betty vs. Veronica stereotypes, and technology has to factor into the plot, too. The cheap college drinking and sexy attempts don’t make up for lack of expected scares or unpretty people playing a flat Fatal Attraction, and the insignificant Australian touches simply look like anywhere that’s pretty. But at least it’s Christopher Egan (Eragon) instead of a blonde chick protagonist, and I didn’t know there was such a thing as a house sitting agency! Though it’s really great when we get them, the few and far between haunted house tricks take a long time to happen- leaving only 15 minutes left for the twists and true heavy will out fine for the ending.
The Girl Next Door – I’m not really sure what to make of this 2007 tale based on Jack Ketchum’s novel. The cast is fine along with the fifties touches and period nostalgia. It’s also nice to see some frank and kinky talk in what we presume was such a Leave It to Beaver era- though it’s also weird that its kids and budding teens involved. Unfortunately, I don’t think this should be labeled as a horror film. Yes, horrific and very scary real life things happen here- twisted torture, and sick, verbal abuses. But the demented drama should be enough in telling the disturbed of the piece. When these real tortures and violent abuses are tossed into the same breath with our recent titillating torture porn, it cheapens and exploits the true story of Ketchum’s source. Is Sleepers a horror film? No. So why is this? Call it a thriller or straight drama but saying this is horror, I find that somewhat demeaning. Though I don’t think the direction here goes for the excess ala Hostel, I’m just not sure about the entire approach.
Immortality (2000) – This contemporary vampire drama stars Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley) as a swanky undead playboy and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter) as the investigator who follows his blood trail. Of course, Law already has a pasty, enthralling, juicy way about him, so we’re not that surprised to see him as a vampire having his way with the chicks- and the seduction is suave for Law’s lady fans. However, the against type vampire bites and violent death scenes disturbingly remind us that vamps are not meant to be our baby daddy teen dreams. It’s nice to see Spall as a decent bloke instead of the usual slinky and seedy type, too. Though the contorted and freaky physical performance from Law adds to the disturbed atmosphere, the technicalities of his vampirism are a little slow, ill paced, and confusing at times. The increasing focus on the weird romance angles over the fine police investigation and spiritual debates is also unfortunate. We’ve seen twisted vamp love and poetry too many times. I’d much rather see the rarer real world cop meets vampire action trump a love heals the vampire chemistry that isn’t happening.
Mrs. Amworth – I am seriously surprised this 2007 beyond low budget vampire fair even made it to DVD. There are no subtitles of course to help with the microphone-less dialogue, and it all looks really really really basement backyard home video filming. I mean, Blair Witch was professionally shot compared to this! There’s blood and boobs a plenty, the acting isn’t even that bad for the most part, the story’s half-decent too. Even if the plot is nothing that new, the script isn’t all that hokey. But this dang high school video production editing, bright lighting, and just way too down home photography is so unbelievable that it distracts from any attempt at scary. Which is sad. This could have been a decent tale if it had a proper production. The fashions are at least cool, and casual non-acting school banter helps a lot in the fun. The music would be quite moody, scary, and atmospheric if the rest of the filmmaking was done right, too. Unfortunately, model Magenta Brooks is seriously too tall for all the men. Is this meant to be bad, bemusing or awkward? Someone please let me know.