Saturday, July 28, 2012

5 horror movies to pick for movie night if you are an asshole.

1. Sorority Row (2010) First off, I should say that I actually kind of love this movie. It is terrible in a really fun "logic doesn't matter" sort of way, and has some ghoulish kills. What it does not have, however, is respect for any of the female characters. So, here's what you do. Tell your friends that you are going to be bringing a movie called "Sorority House Massacre or something." Be sure to say, "It was written by lesbian feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, and is directed by a woman, too!" Talk about how you think it'll be an interesting deconstruction of the misogyny of slasher films. Then, on horror movie night? Put this fucker on.

2. Teeth (2008) But what do you do if sexist sorority house boob-fests are what your friends normally want to watch on movie night? If that's the case, you might opt instead to bring the movie Teeth. It has an innocuous enough title for a movie about a girl with Vagina Dentata. Make up some lie about what the movie is about, and then just sit back and enjoy their reactions as character after character gets his penis torn off and eaten by a vagina.

3. Dreamcatcher (2003) Are your friends the sort of people who "don't watch Hollywood movies" and instead only watch capital f Films? Then perhaps they will enjoy Dreamcatcher, which you will describe as an independent film examining the co-opting of Native American culture. The actual film is about a group of pals who talk with insane made up slang, share a common bond because they once rescued a mentally disabled kid, and are soon attacked by flesh eating ass weasels from space.

4. He Who Gets Slapped (1924) Is your movie night group filled with people who love gore and try to one up one another with the grossest movie ever? Are they the sort of horror fan who, when asked why they love horror, reply, "BLOOD!" Do they roll their eyes if a movie is in black and white? Boy are they going to love this movie. He Who Gets Slapped is a silent movie, and my favourite Lon Chaney movie. Put all hopes of killer clowns out of your head, though, because Chaney does not play Pennywise the clown, here. There are no fangs and no monster eyes. He plays a man who has his dreams taken from him, who is humiliated and broken and driven mad. It is a strange, heartbreakingly sad movie. His clown character allows him to relive the worst moments of his life over and over in front of a laughing and jeering audience, night after night, until finally his chance for revenge comes. 

5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) That said, if you have a friend that genuinely suffers from Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns!) then holy shit have I got a movie for you. Everything about this movie is amazing. The creators take the premise "clown aliens attack earth" and they take it much farther than you expect. Not only do they aliens look like horrifying clowns (the makeup in this movie is really great) but their spaceship is a big-top tent. They ride around in a tiny clown car. They kill people with pies to the face, wrap them up in cotton candy and drink their blood through giant loopy crazy-straws. There are funhouse mirrors! There is killer popcorn! If you are gonna traumatize your coulrophobic pal, then you might as well do it right! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Because it makes me pretty: Cherry Falls (2000)

In Cherry Falls, a slasher is killing virgin teens and carving the word "virgin" into their corpses because otherwise it would be kind of ridiculous for the cops in the movie to see virginity as a pattern in teen deaths. Especially since the first murders occur while the teens are making out in a car. I didn't go to medical school or anything, but if the killer had not been carving the word "virgin" into the corpses, it probably would be a bit weird that the coroner would check for hymens.

Everything I expected to like about this movie wound up being disappointing. The premise - a town full of panicked teens desperately trying to save themselves by getting laid - is funny, but then the movie is jam-packed with horror movie cliches and mediocre scares.

And yet, in the scenes between the infrequent murders, I found myself loving this movie more and more. It is just inexplicably WEIRD. Like, there's an early scene where we meet Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend parked in front of her house. We learn that they haven't "gone all the way" yet, and he's frustrated. This leads him to break up with her. Then her mother pulls up in a car, and conspiratorially warns her to be careful not to wake her father sneaking in. We follow as Murphy sneaks into the house, and this is how we learn that her dad is the town sheriff. This is all pretty standard on the page, but the director must have been behind the camera just yelling insane prompts at the actors.

"Okay, now flirt with your daughter's boyfriend! Really eyefuck him. And you! Boyfriend! Make a joke about the mom's headlights, and leer! LEER! You're a single man now!" and then, "Okay! You're going inside! You were just broken up with. Kiss your mom on the lips for some reason! Then go upstairs! Dad? Dad are you hiding in your daughter's bedroom in the dark yet?"

Later on in the movie, there's a scene where the father goes in to her bedroom again to wake her up and ask if she's a virgin. He's just found out the killer's M.O. and he's worried about her. But he really takes his time with the asking, and afterward, she takes his hand and asks if he's disappointed that she's a virgin. Bewildering!

The movie doesn't seem incestuous by intent, though. I suspect that scenes like that one are a sort of collateral damage. Every single scene in the movie is sexualized, and it does lend a distinct personality to what would otherwise just be another I Know What You Did Last Summer. Everybody seems to be constantly eyefucking everybody at the school. Long vacant lustful looks. The camera will randomly flash to the word "Erected" on the building's dedication. Characters with only one line come into the principal's office to announce, "the sheriff is here," with their words, but seem to announce "I want to fuck you right now, sir. Or your chair. I don't care what I fuck, oh god I forget what my name is," with their eyes.

There's a scene midway through the film, where Cindy, one of the "experienced" girls, is explaining to an audience of virgin girls that unless they're talking about masturbation it would be foolish to expect an orgasm from the boys. They are all going to be having sex at this secret orgy, but they need to manage their expectations. "Girls have to do everything. Boys are totally clueless when it comes to sex. It starts with them trying to unhook our bras, fumbling around, and it never changes. Wait until they try to put their dick into you."

"Please don't say they need help with THAT!" someone says.

"Always," Cindy tells her.

One of the other girls seems skeptical and asks, "Aren't we being a little hard on the boys?"

Cindy just looks at her with pity.

When Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend Kenny finally do get around to their sex scene, it is so unexpected and dirty. This is a movie with no nudity, and hardly any on screen gore. It relies almost entirely on innuendo and insinuation and schoolyard gossipy jokes, and so when Murphy decides to fuck her boyfriend, her directness is actually kind of shocking. And it's refreshing that this is clearly on her own terms, too. She's not laying back and letting him fumble at her bra, she's got her toe stuck in his mouth and she's giving him orders, "Bite it. Bite it harder. Harder." And she's sort of kicking him in the face at the same time. He's terrified, and it's an awkward and genuinely sexy moment.

After that, the murders escalate, as you would expect. There are some twists, but there aren't many surprises. It doesn't really matter. The plot is easy to ignore. The performances are all likeable, especially Jay Mohr and Brittany Murphy, and there are some great lines in the climactic scenes. All of a sudden people are spouting one-liners like crazy, and it feels chaotic and fun. A killing spree in the midst of a teen orgy is just as ridiculous as you would hope, and the scenes of the teenagers pairing off like it's a high school dance are sort of sweet.

In the end, Cherry Falls is completely ineffective as a horror movie, but it is a charming and surprisingly funny teen sex comedy dressed up like a horror movie, with a fright wig and garish makeup and everything.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Now I understand why people get into murder vans: House of the Devil (2009)

Ti West's 1980s babysitter horror throwback House of the Devil is weird but strangely pleasant.

It first caught my attention because it looks like a love-letter to 80s horror, but that's a trick! There's nothing of the simplicity of those babysitter exploitation films here. This is a very modern horror movie all dressed up in costume to look like our rose-coloured nostalgia. It's not a tribute, it's a period piece. Everything about it feels exactly the way you remember 80s horror looking, but there were no actual movies like this in the 80s. House of the Devil is beautiful and measured, and it benefits from a more modern sensibility in camera work and especially in its pacing and attention to character.

I was drawn to The House of the Devil because the retro setting and look, but I loved it because it was so careful and subtle and effortlessly charming. Tom Noonan, in particular, demonstrates how creepy gentleness and kindness can be. He is soft spoken and humble even as he explains to the main character that she has been called out to this creepy house in the middle of nowhere to babysit a child that doesn't exist. There is no child. Instead, he explains, he needs someone to watch his grandmother. It is hard to not like him, despite knowing that this is a crazy suspicious thing that he's done. And that makes his kindness all the more creepy. You can't help but thinking oh shit, this is how serial killers get people into their creepy murder vans! They're super charming and you start thinking, "Oh just one look in the murder van will be okay. I don't want to let him down."

It's a slow movie, but it never drags. The main character is so likeable that it's nice to just spend time with her, to order pizza and dance around with walkman headphones on. And there is always just one more slightly off detail to promise that the end is coming. Ti West knows that anticipating violence is scarier than violence itself, but he also seems to understand that if you are going to be wandering around a spooky house for 90 minutes, then a) there better actually be something batshit crazy behind one of these doors at some point, and b) it is important to have a character who we want to wander around an empty house with. The main actor Jocelin Donahue conveys charm and intelligence in a role that requires very little speaking. It is never boring, following her as she tries to figure out what is going on.

And how can you not love a movie that sent out its review copies on VHS in a proper white plastic case and everything?