As 2010 winds its way down, I can’t help but notice all the great new movie titles I’ve added to my collection this past year. The future remains bright as horror films never go out of style and movie makers, both foreign and domestic, continue to present new genre films with no signs of letting up. This is not to suggest, however, that “new” necessarily means “original.”
Remakes of older titles continue to flourish with little sign of stopping. 2011 promises newer versions of DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, STRAW DOGS, MOTHER’S DAY, and FRIGHT NIGHT. For genre fans this tends to be a mixed blessing. Remakes do generate sufficient “buzz” and may also inspire a revisit to an oldie but goodie we’ve allowed to collect dust on our video shelves. On the other hand, this also invariably leads to an outcry for Hollywood to leave well enough alone!
For those keeping score, let’s take a look at this past years entries and judge 2010′s horror remakes, the hits and misses.
THE CRAZIES – Romero’s original story of a town driven insane from a military pathogen never reached the same cult status as his iconic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but still had its share of followers. In truth “Zombies” and “Crazies” aren’t too terribly different, though these villains were completely overshadowed by their undead cousins. I enjoyed the movie but, have to admit, liked the new one even better. In fairness to Romero, this one carried a much larger budget and, it can also be argued, was more relevant in today’s world than that of the original’s 1973. I also found that the characters in the newer version much more tolerable. The original film’s lead female, “Judy,” kept pleading with her boyfriend, “David,” so much she actually succeeded in making me sick of my own name! Aside from that, the newer version was also more suspenseful and I thought the infected townspeople were much scarier. HIT!
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – Well this was a nightmare all right, but for all the wrong reasons! The essence of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was its unique villain, Freddy Krueger. The new one is scarier looking and, if you’ve ever seen images of people who have been severely burned, more realistic in terms of his torching at the hands of angry parents. Unfortunately, when you burn off someone’s face, there’s not a lot that can be accomplished in terms of facial expressions. As a result, you have an expressionless Krueger devoid of the personality that made him so endearing to genre fans. The lead characters were equally bland and the movie presented a subplot (whether or not the living Freddy was actually guilty of abusing the children) that ended up being completely irrelevant. Aside from that, this is a “paint by numbers” remake that lacks all the charm of its predecessor. Modern SPFX did make some of the “reality to dream” sequences look cool but it was hardly enough to keep my interest and barely enough to keep me awake. MISS!
PIRANHA – Anyone who read my summer review of this film already knows I’m a fan. The original never took itself too seriously and that’s the only similarity between the two. Much more a “re-imagining” as opposed to a remake, this showed that Hollywood can draw from past films while still keeping things fresh. Gratuitous nudity and gore make this an instant classic and even the 3D effects were a joy. As I said before, anyone who finds those MTV “Spring Break” specials as annoying as I do will enjoy seeing its participants served up as fish food! The original was an unapologetic send up of JAWS which leads to an interesting equation…Remake of Rip-off = success? HIT!
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS – Okay, I know this film actually debuted in 2009 but, since it didn’t see worldwide distribution until 2010 I’m adding it to the list. The original wasn’t as famous as other 80′s horror films but built a lot of steam as the years went on. Also more a re-tooling than a remake, this one pays homage to the original (particularly a cameo from Linnea Quigley that mimics her role in 1988) while still highlighting lots of new ideas. Whether you’re a demon or not, you’d love to be invited to “Angela’s” modern Halloween party even if it means you wind up as one of the favors. This film received mixed to negative reviews but I did enjoy it. HIT!
LET ME IN – is not so much a remake as a re-imagining of the 2008 Scandinavian film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, based on the Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Though they are both vampire films, the real story is the coming of age tale between Oskar and Eli (or Owen and Abby as they are called in LET ME IN). I have read the book and have seen both film versions and I highly recommend all of them. In my opinion both film versions are faithful to the book, though personally I prefer LET ME IN over LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. For me, the child actors were just too creepy looking in the original and I had a harder time feeling sympathy for them then I did in LET ME IN. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz were more relatable to me. I think Chloë is an actress to keep your eyes on as she has been in two hit movies (LET ME IN and KICK ASS as Hit Girl) and in both she played characters much more mature than her actual age…and she did it very well. This is one movie that I am glad they remade and even if you don’t see the original, or have read the book, you will still enjoy it and go away feeling satisfied. HIT!
This Labor Day Weekend I decided to pay tribute to a bygone era in our nation’s theater going history – the drive-in double feature! With two films currently playing that I wanted to see, I carefully selected which theaters had both, along with compatible times.
Unable to watch the films from my car, I was brought back to the same “Ultra” screen theater in which I had seen PIRANHA 3D just a few weeks earlier. This was the locale of my first film choice, the newly released MACHETE, in all it’s 2D glory.
I was a HUGE fan of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 GRINDHOUSE double feature. Two modern films were created to pay homage to the over-the-top, low budget, exploitation films of the late 70′s/early 80′s. I was too young to enjoy this experience first-hand and relied on the wonders of VHS & DVD to watch them at home. Seeing THE GRINDHOUSE in the theater, along with its complimentary faux trailers, ranks as one of the most satisfying movie-going experiences of my life.
PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez) and DEATH PROOF (Quentin Tarantino), while two very different pictures, were both equally effective at paying homage to this sub-genre. Deliberate “scratches” and missing reels added even further to the overall experience.
Unfortunately, not everyone understood nor appreciated this tribute. As I walked out of the theater, grinning from ear to ear, most of the audience seemed irked and disappointed. I also heard the word “stupid” uttered more than once along with the shaking of heads. Clearly, they had missed the entire point. I was disgusted even further when the film did poorly overall at the box office. I don’t make a habit of being emotionally tied to a film’s financial successes nor failures, but I did have a visceral reaction to this one. So much so, I wanted to hop on the evening news and perform a “Live” editorial on how idiotic the American viewing public was.
You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that, despite the negative reception, one of its phony trailers was to be filmed as a legitimate, full-length feature.
I admit, I did have some doubts. For one thing, I was afraid that with the addition of main stream actors like Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, and Lindsey Lohan – the film would lose the very cheap, grindhouse quality that had made its false preview so appealing. I was happy to discover that these fears were unjustified.
I arrived at a noon showing, with the theater about half-filled. The demographic of the audience was predominantly male, with a few women accompanying their mates. Just like the films from which it was born, MACHETE was presented along with the same endearing “scratches” and drive-in touches. Aside from a couple minor cast changes, it stayed VERY true its original trailer containing most of the same scenes and iconic lines. Non stop action and gore highlighted a storyline that actually added more depth than one would expect. This was via the film’s underlying, though not in the least bit subtle, message regarding the divisive issue of illegal immigration.
One of the big questions surrounding this film was whether or not Danny Trejo, previously only seen in supporting roles, could carry his own film. After seeing MACHETE, I believe the answer is YES, provided of course that it is an action film such as this one. The rest of the cast also did quite well playing their respective parts and I was even impressed with the work of Jessica Alba, whom I was never a fan. Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the taco-vending turned revolutionary “She” (an obvious nod to the historical Che’), gave a great performance, often stealing the show from Trejo, himself.
After the film ended, I heard mixed reactions from the audience. Most of the guys (including myself) seemed to love it. The women, on the other hand, seemed less than impressed. I smiled as I listened to one gal rant about how ridiculous the film was to her partner, as he feigned agreement.
Personally, I had no complaints other than the ferocious taste for Mexican food that I had developed during the course of watching this movie. I’m talking real, authentic Mexican food of course, and not that crap you buy at Taco Bell! After visiting the concession for a decidedly non-authentic order of nachos, I purchased my next movie ticket for THE LAST EXORCISM.
It did take a bit of adjustment going from the huge Ultra-screen to one half its size but, after awhile, I stopped noticing. This movie has been out for a couple weeks now and, while it did quite well financially during its opening weekend, attendance dramatically dropped soon after. This has been attributed to the negative “word of mouth” it received from viewers. The press wasn’t kidding; I noticed soon after the movie started that I was sharing the entire theater with a lone, African American man sitting ten rows ahead.
THE LAST EXORCISM uses the same “point of view” film techniques as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Unlike the previous entries, however, this one is a bit easier on the eyes. Since the premise of the film deals with a professional documentary crew , it doesn’t have the same “unsteady” camera work that incites viewers to take their Dramamine. In fact, the documentary crew is apparently so efficient, they even bring along their own soundtrack. Somewhere during the film’s second act, I noticed the addition of a musical score. This, along with the film’s climax, caused a bit of confusion regarding its overall presentation.
I have to say this is not a bad movie on the whole. A charlatan preacher, who has made his living performing phony exorcisms on misguided believers, decides he’s had enough. After reading that a child had been killed during a similar ritual, he recruits a documentary crew to join him as he makes one final “house call.” Unsure what his future will bring, he decides to publicly expose the entire practice of “exorcism,” thereby preventing any more innocents from getting harmed. The actors are credible in their roles and, through most of the film, the viewer is never sure if the girl in question is really possessed or the victim of her troubled father’s abuse. I think if PARANORMAL ACTIVITY hadn’t come out within the last year, this picture would have had more of an impact. Instead it evokes viewer fatigue over this type of film making.
Most of the complaints dealt with the last ten minutes of the film. While most people stated it was over the top, I found it to be predictable and uninspiring. All in all, this movie is worth a rent, especially if its DVD and Blu-Ray release contains an “alternative ending.”
In an effort to gain “audience reaction,” I caught up with the only other person I shared the theater with and asked what his thoughts were. As we entered the main lobby he winced and said, “That movie? That was some bullshit, there!” While I can’t completely agree with that assessment, I did understand where he was coming from.
Upon leaving the theater, I realized that the best modern “grindhouse” double feature would have been MACHETE and PIRANHA 3D. A year from now, when both films are added to my home movie collection, they will no doubt join each other for an afternoon of mindless fun.
With thoughts of MACHETE still in my head, I drove off heading straight to the neighboring town of Chicago Heights. Somewhere, in this predominantly Mexican neighborhood, there was a taco with my name on it.