08 March 2013

Recent Horror Hits and Misses

Somewhat Recent Horror Possibilities
By Kristin Battestella

It seems for every gem found in the current horror filmmaking ways; there is more than a fair share of stinkers! Since I’m always in pursuit of honest to goodness 21st Century macabre, here’s a quick list of scares from the last decade or two. While a few deliver, unfortunately others don’t. 


The Insatiable –Sean Patrick Flanery (Young Indiana Jones) and Michael Biehn (The Terminator) are both very cool guys who, after some seriously great stuff, have made their share of clunkers. With that in mind, one wonders if this unconventional 2007 vampire comedy romance can pull off what is so often an uneasy mixing of genres. The mood certainly doesn’t start as horror, and these Average Joe life sucks montages get old fast. Actual time punch cards, full size desktops, pop up aol email, and typing in all caps replete with old lingo such as “shit is wack” and “word”? The funny and sexy in that anti hip sardonic way also tries a little too hard, and the black comedy is uneven between the horror research and dark action. Some jokes work – ordering blood on the web, needing a coupon for a big bag of lime – Biehn is bemusing as a wheelchair bound vampire-hunting badass, too. However, some of the dream-esque flashes are off, and the bare minimum blood and gore and standard sweaty chick in a tank top hardly warrant an R rating. Charlotte Ayanna isn’t necessarily weak, but the character is too cute, hip, and poorly drawn to be sexy, evil, and dangerous.  Miss Teen USA a vampire does not make. The end is a bit obvious, yes, and the pace never quite balances the humor and dark or seriousness. This should have been a straight horror comedy instead of some depressing moody thing – and yet this nothing stellar, direct to video fair is good for a fun late night viewing.                 

Shadow of the Vampire – Art Deco designs, sepia tones, and tricks with color and black and white photography accent this film within a film creepy from 2000. Okay, some of the old time camera techniques, varying film speeds, inter titles, and put on accents may seem artsy fartsy for the sake of it to the contemporary CGI obsessed audience expecting action and excess. However, the post-war period costumes and décor make for a wonderfully unique European panache.  The make up and wardrobe for Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon) works seamlessly with the vintage Nosferatu footage, and his performance is simply uncanny excellence. John Malkovich (Places in the Heart) is also delightfully eccentric as F.W. Murnau, and Udo Kier (Flesh for Frankenstein), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), and Eddie Izzard (The Riches) add charming support in bringing to life this apparent retelling of what really happened behind the scenes in filming Nosferatu. The lines of fiction and reality are further blurred thanks to unique editing, eerie music crescendos, a freaky mood, and a foreboding atmosphere.  Not only are we hooked on the “What if” vampire possibilities, but the intensity and ambiguity make for a few skin crawling scenes.  Director E. Elias Merhige (Begotten) and writer Steven Katz (Wind Chill) could have easily gone the corny campy route, but the two fold historical macabre has just enough bemusement and novelty to keep the parallels going for the finale.  Film students or horror obsessed will have a good time watching and comparing this one with its silent source- and hey, it was produced by Nicolas Cage, who knew?

Split Decisions

Doppelganger – The opening Drew Barrymore suckling scene feels a little too carried over from Poison Ivy, but the follow up blood and screams with mom Jaid Barrymore add to the 1993 kitschy. The very dated style, light LA grunge feeling, and passé cast are way over the top, and vampire lovers are removed from an onscreen script rather than a shoehorned in plot necessity like today. Thankfully, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) is bemusing and so is the “Hey, it’s Danny Trejo!” moment, but seriously, George Newbern (actually the Adventures in Babysitting guy) isn’t Paul Rudd? Sadly, the slow motion soft core wanna-be shots don’t work until more blood and creepy aspects enter in- symbolic windows bursting open and yes, growling winds just make things laughable. It’s all too quick to get to the sex and titillation- casual lesbian on the dance floor motifs and forced use of the word ‘twat’ feel more awkward than cool.  The scares are obvious, and poor music choices, sound mixing, and bad dialogue re-dubs don’t help as Barrymore comes off more like a PMS queen or mental bitch rather than an innocent girl with a slutty, killer lookalike. Though the plot itself is too thin, things becomes more interesting when the murder investigation raises a few questions. Unfortunately, even the FBI agent (Dan Shor aka Billy the Kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) lays the smack on really thick! Barrymore doesn’t have a full command on the dry dialogue scenes, either. However, despite the baby doll dresses and old lady headscarf, teen Drew is looking flawless. I’m sure there’s a male audience that can have fun with that, the unintentional camp, and the cheap entertainment value here- except for the finale. Good Lord, what happened there?! 

Perfect Creature – Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea) and Dougray Scott (Ever After) are quite fine in this international vampire thriller from 2007. The quiet, ethical moments and the investigation plot at hand are interesting, and the blood, gore, and set design are well done, too. In fact, there’s a lot of good going for writer and director Glenn Standring (The Truth About Demons) here. Unfortunately, perhaps too much is happening in this science fiction gone awry, mutations mayhem, and warped history steampunkish alternate New Zealand filled with politics, corruption, and revolution. I can forgive the obvious male/female dynamics, the near good boy/bad boy love triangle, and random lookalike cop chicks plot contrivances.  Action slow motion zooms and in your face dark, even ridiculous photography and saturation I could tolerate, too – along with the excessive, nonsensical, and unnecessary helter skelter dream flashes. However, you can’t have both chaotic imagery and every trying too hard plot coolness thrown at the screen. When telling its own story and not playing at faux futuristic Sherlock Holmes, there is some very intriguing material here – vampire protectors, a delicate human co-existence, and hidden genetic history.  Onscreen when and where titles might have organized this content, but this world would have been much more ideal as a limited television series. Add some color; keep it set in the past, and give time for all these ambitious plots to grown on their own. Sadly, instead of this well developed something for everyone, we’re left with an unfocused, confusing, all over the place 90 minutes with a hectic, unresolved action finale.  How we get from the tantalizing outlawed medieval science and only male born Victorian vampires to influenza epidemics, a post-WWII steampunk future, and a modern, pants-wearing lady detective is never fully explained and left aside at the expense of forced action. This is not scary and not even really horror, but more that anything, its dang frustrating for what it could have been.


Psychosis – I must say, recent horror movies that start with long, cool credits montages are always a bit iffy, and this 2010 Charisma Carpenter (Buffy and Angel) creepy goes downhill from there. I’ll give it a plus for decent gore, but grungy folks with a killer in the middle of a snowy nowhere- it feels like every new horror film start out this way, replete with a driving montage to boot. We wise horror viewers know what’s going to happen, even if the script is confusing and not forthcoming behind the typical rich American woman crime writer with mental history in a foreign country with a creepy old house whiff. The Brit slang and styles are goofy, too, and the entire design is very dated with old technology and no cell phones. Three lame make outs, sex scenes, a boyfriend faux scare, and exploring scenes in the first half hour don’t help the plot and premise and only lead to stupid scary movie cliché character mistakes. This isn’t slow, foreboding mystery, just poor development and a seriously erroneous husband element. Carpenter’s fans can enjoy her wow youthful 40 here, but the nudity won’t be whom they want to see. Actually, the cheap tease nature here feels almost PG-13. It takes awhile to find out what in the hell is happening with all this mess, about an hour and twenty minutes. Unfortunately, it’s a 90-minute movie.

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