Friday, April 15, 2011

The Insidious Problem

If you plan on seeing Insidious, but haven't yet, you may want to skip this blog post.  To get to the problem with the film, I have to reveal part of its plot.

I was very hesitant to see Insidious.  I don't know how a PG-13 horror film can be effective.  I realized it was a "ghost" story, so to speak, and that it probably wasn't aiming for emotionally disturbing, so that weighed in its favor.  Then there were the good reviews.  A lot of them.  So, accompanied by a certain female companion, I went.

I was reasonably pleased.  There were too many cheap scares (the kind that cause you to jump in your seat, which I hate because they are easy), but overall the film was very creepy ... until the end.

The movie doesn't fail in its attempt to deliver a good scare, but it does falter, and that is because the location switches.  Toward the film's climax, part of the action takes place in a realm called The Further.  This is the place you go when you astrally project.  This is where the scares stop.

Previously in the film, the scary moments all took place in the young married couple's home.  This is a setting with which everyone is familiar.  When something happens in a house that is otherwordly or out of place (a man standing the corner, music playing by itself), it is freaky.  When things happen in a realm unknown by viewers, a realm where seemingly anything can happen, the scares disappear because the rules of normality no longer apply.  Ghosts and demons don't usually inhabit our homes.  Therefore, when they appear it causes a scare.  Visit their dimension, however, and they seem a hell of lot less special.

This almost tanked the movie as far as I am concerned.  When the father character of Patrick Wilson goes into The Further to save his son, it had one or two unsettling moments, but that was it.  All the fear that had been built up earlier in the film was now diffused.  I felt no tension because I believed anything could happen, and if anything can happen, anything can be undone.  Had I directed/wrote the film, I would've discussed The Further, played it up as a horrendous place ... and then never showed it.  I would have had plenty of scenes of Wilson in his chair, seemingly sleeping, but in The Further.  I would've kept the camera on Wilson and those in the room and instead of showing this foggy other world, I would've had various noises sounding (gnawing sounds, ghastly moans, metal on metal, etc.).  Wilson would have been in obvious physical and mental distress.  Bite marks would appear on his face.  Viewers would be waiting for something, and would have no idea what they would get.  When the action in the film that really exists (and not my version) turned back to the house, with Wilson and his son re-united, I would've kept that all in.  Bringing The Further into our world was a good idea.  Bringing our world into The Further was not.

If you have to expose your scares, it's always best to do it in a familiar setting.  After all, what is scarier, coming home and finding a stranger sitting in your chair, or breaking into someone's house and seeing them sitting in their chair?  Obviously it's the former.  The familiar breeds a feeling of safety and comfort.  Disrupt it, and you've got your audience right where you want them.

Insidious was still a good film.  Underrated, even.  It almost derailed itself, but managed to salvage some its momentum.  Had The Further never existed in physical form it would almost be perfect.  Maybe they'll get it right with the inevitable sequel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Galaxy of Terror: Crazy Shit in Space

Not a scene from "Star Wars."
As I write this, I find myself suffering from some sort of stomach bug.  Perhaps it's food poisioning.  I have no clue.  I'm not a doctor.  The pain I'm feeling brings to mind a movie I was once obsessed with seeing.  Galaxy of Terror.  If you've seen it, you understand why I thought of it when I was sick.
The reason I was obsessed with this 1981 sci-fi horror film was for one reason and one reason only: the movie poster.  The poster sold this movie.  It had everything a young boy could want to see in a movie.  Skull-faced monsters.  A strange planet.  A female in distress.  A title that dripped blood.  It was, quite simply, really freakin' cool.

It wasn't until the movie came out on VHS that I was lucky enough to see it.  At the time I found it pretty incomprehensible.  I was young.  I understood the worm rape scene that gets a lot of press, but the entire thing was a nightmare of half-baked ideas, special effects that are laughable now (but were pretty cool at the time), and a cast and crew that is memorable in its own right.  The plot involved a giant pyramid, experiments in fear, and pseudo-philosophical nonsense ... at least that's how I remember it.  Looking back at it now, though, shows that it makes a lot more sense than the Scream franchise.

How could I not like it?
The most noted member of the crew other than producer Roger Corman was none other than Mr. Titanic himself, James Cameron.  That's right, Avatar!  The guy behind the big smurf movie was Production Designer and Second Unit Director on this piece of cult cinema.  Wikipedia reports he even figured out a way to get maggots to wriggle on demand.  It involved a metal plate and electric current.  Genius.  But wait, there's more.

The cast reads like a wish list for any film you'd want to make but don't have the money to pay anyone.  Erin Moran! (You know her as Joanie on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi).  She plays a woman with some kind of mental powers, and spends most of the film looking utterly apeshit insane.  I imagine if you ever need a film where a woman looks nuts all the time, she's your gal.  (Incidentally, I've met Moran and she's kind of a bitch.  I can understand that, though.  If you go from a highly rated sitcom with Opie and Henry Winkler and then wind up in Galaxy of Terror, you'd be kind of a bitch, too.)

Then there's Robert Englund.  Oh yeah, you know the name.  One, two, Freddy's coming for you.  Three, four, better lock the door.  Five, six, grab your crucifix.  Seven, eight, better stay up late.  Nine, ten, never sleep again.  Freddy Krueger himself.  Minus the glove and sweater, though. 

Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects) rounds out the cast with My Favorite Martian Ray Walston and Laura Palmer's mother on Twin Peaks, Grace Zabriskie.  Pay dirt.

Forget the fact that the story is a hodge podge of ideas.  Ignore the dated special effects.  What I really want to know is: Why hasn't this been remade yet?  It seems absolutely ripe for the picking by Hollywood, the Land of Remakes and Sequels.  This is tailor-made for it, and quite honestly seems like it may have been ahead of its time.  I'm against remakes, but I'm sure if one were announced it would drive a whole new crowd to the original (with it's glowing red heads and raping worms), which I fully support.

With exploitation film enjoying a bit of a resurgence in a newer form, Galaxy of Terror could quite possibly bring in some real dough (especially if some enterprising director were to cast Lindsay Lohan, as she was quite enjoyable in Machete). 

Obviously, the poster may have been the coolest part of this film, but there is a part of me that thinks this is pure genius.  I found the clip below on YouTube.  You can really get a good feeling of what the film is like.  Over acting.  Erin Moran's crazy lady eyes.  Surreal sets.  Yeah, it has genius written all over it.

My stomach is still killing me, and I'm still thinking of how the film made me feel back in the day.  I imagine my young, bad self was mightly ticked off at the old bait-and-switch tactic.  I'm sure I didn't understand parts of it (something I'd still have issues with today, I imagine), and the worm scene probably made me uncomfortable at best.  Looking at this cast and crew and what they did and didn't go on to do makes me think that without this film, leads me to believe this movie was special in more ways than we can imagine.

I wonder if Cameron thinks about it anymore?

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did NOT get this film to review.  I should probably thank someone for that, as I'm not sure I could really sit through it again.  Clicking on my affiliate links may earn me a commission, which I'm sure will be more than what this movie grossed it's opening 8 weeks ... if it lasted that long.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why I Despise and Distrust Hollywood

I am asked from time to time why I despise big-budget Hollywood with such passion.  I don't hate every big-budget film, of course, but I do loathe the process that brings them to the screen.  The process has nothing to do with art and everything to do with business, and I think that sort of environment ensures that things like A Night at the Roxbury comes to existence.

That "film" exemplifies most of what I hate about Hollywood.  It is a film so bad, not even basic cable shows it, yet it got made and almost anyone with half a brain could've seen it would've been horrible.  In fact, I bet most Hollywood executives thought it would be bad, but trudged on with the greenlighting simply because they saw money to be made.  (It almost grossed twice what it cost to produce it, so the execs weren't far off.  Never underestimate the stupidity of cattle.)

The idea for the film probably came about by men who suits thinking that since the Saturday Night Live skit was enjoyed by people, these people would love seeing skit drawn out on the big screen.  There is some logic in this.  SNL, at the time, was not exactly known for being on the cutting-edge of comedy.  (It still isn't, as far as I'm concerned.  And for those who think it is cutting-edge, understand that the show routinely engages in censorship of ideas, not just profanity, so it is far from anything goes when it comes to comedy.)  Surmising that the SNL crowd would not have enough common sense to stay away from the film, the idea was given the go-ahead, and the execs were sort of proven right.  Critics hated it, but people saw it and helped it gross a little over $30 million when it cost a mind-staggering $17 million to make.  Not bad for something I'm convinced everyone knew was doomed to fail.

Predictable audiences enable Hollywood to make predictable movies.  It's not the only thing that does that, but it helps dramatically.  I would have little problem with this except for the fact that I believe it funnels money away from original films (of any ilk) getting made.  Why take a chance on a fresh, never-been-heard-of comedy when you can make some green off a TV show skit?  Business-wise it makes total sense.  As for artistic and entertainment values, though, it leaves little to be desired.  What makes the A Night at the Roxbury situation even stranger is that Hollywood knows that SNL movies are routinely panned (there are exceptions), but that original comedies often get not only box office dough but good reviews.  Hollywood executives who greenlight this crap would rather go after the all mighty dollar than keep their reputation untarnished.  Lorne Michaels and Amy Heckerling produced it.  John Fortenberry directed it.  (In case you don't recognize his name, perhaps it is because you never saw his other work, including Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful and Underfunded.  Someone, probably many someones, gave them the okay to do the film, however, and those names are harder to find.  They are responsible for that disaster of film just as much as the names we know (and if we have any sense, no longer trust). 

That film, more than any other, is the perfect, shining example of why I despise and distrust Hollywood.  Got a better one?  I'd love to hear it.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I was not given a copy of the film in question to review.  Thank God!  If you click on any of my links, I may make a small commission because they are affiliates.  This post is also being optioned for a movie starring none other than Tim Meadows!  (Lorne Michaels is producing it.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Joy Ride 2 and The Horror of It All

I had to review Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead for Film Threat recently.  It was an exercise in self-control to not stop the DVD and throw it into traffic.  Honestly, people who hate horror movies aren't far off the mark in their loathing when stuff like this exists.   Read my review if you don't believe me.  I'm not going to rehash it other than to say, if you're dumb enough to rent it and dumb enough to watch it, you deserve to have your time wasted.

As a horror movie fan, I have a lot to apologize for.  The Friday the 13th franchise.  Scream and all its sequels.  Freddy becoming a wise-cracking anti-hero and forgetting about his child molester roots.  The '90s.  Of course, there are films I consider to be classics not only of horror, but of cinema, such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  When I'm forced to watch something like Joy Ride 2, however, I first get embarrassed and then angry.  Embarrassed that dreck like that passes as horror, and then angry that it does.  If that's someone's first horror movie (and every horror movie is someone's first horror movie), then great -- there's nowhere to go but up ... if they give it a chance.  That's the problem, isn't it?  Some things are so bad people end up not giving their peers a second chance.  Thank you, assholes.

I have a hard enough time defending my love of horror cinema.  I don't need the "help" of crap like this movie.  You make my job harder, and that's why I come down hard on the likes of you.  Perhaps if I call you out on the crap you make, you'll make something better next time.  Or maybe not.  Maybe some filmmakers are quite content with making crap.  I bet some of them even know it is crap.  They just don't care because someone somewhere is going to watch it.  That is as guaranteed as them churning out more garbage.  Heaven help you if I get my hands on it, though.  As you can see in my review, I am far from kind when a horror movie lets me down.  And I'm near merciless when the horror movie turns out to cater to the stupid, too.  Make better films, horror directors of the world.  Make them scary, let loose, and for the love of everything holy, stop making sequels.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I was sent Joy Ride 2 to review.  I hated it.  Read the review.  If you click on a link or ad in this post, I may get a small commission, which I will use to see anything but a horror sequel.  Promise.