It's now August, meaning
the year 2002 is officially half over.
Mainstream movie wise it hasn't been all that distinguished a year thus
far, but horror movie wise it's actually been better than
average...meaning that, unusually for this time of year, not everything
has sucked. Even more unusual, there were actually more good films than
Yes, there have been some low points. I didn't see JASON X or
HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, and don't believe that in either case I missed
anything too earth shattering. Ditto EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, which I had a
VERY difficult time dragging myself to. I did, unfortunately, catch the
Richard Gere bummer THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES and the dreadful PC game
adaptation RESIDENT EVIL...and in both cases was sorry! I was also
bitterly disappointed with NYC filmmaker Larry Fessenden's independent
production WENDIGO. I LOVED his 1997 vampire flick
HABIT, very few of
whose virtues are evident in WENDIGO, which is done in by a predictable
and even cliched storyline (not to mention a goofy-lookin' monster that
reminded me of nothing so much as the laughable sheep critter from
GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS).
On the good side, however, there was David Fincher's
PANIC ROOM, an extremely well made, if ultimately unremarkable thriller,
and INSOMNIA, MEMENTO director Christopher Nolan's superior remake of a
well-regarded 1997 Norwegian film. Even better was Bill Paxton's
FRAILTY, a stunning, nightmarish mood piece that deals intelligently
with issues of faith, madness and delusion. Chilling, compelling,
thought provoking stuff--a stunning directorial debut from Paxton.
Also good was the indie
production DAHMER, an artsy and affected, though powerful and
disturbing, look at everybody's favorite necrophiliac-cannibalistic-mass
murderer from Milwaukee. I even liked BLADE 2, which, with its
overabundance of nasty, gory imagery, made for a diverting viewing
experience, even if there wasn't much in the way of a story.
The year's best horror
movie thus far, in my opinion, is the French import THE PIANO TEACHER
(LA PIANESTE). It wasn't advertised as such, but it's definitely a
horror movie, dealing unflinchingly as it does with madness and
unchecked sadism. Isabelle Huppert gives one of the year's finest
performances as the severely fucked up title character, a woman who
finds her darkest psychosexual urges unleashed by the attentions of a
passionate but clueless young man. Filled with grotesque and disturbing
scenes, this film is NOT for the easily offended, but is fascinating and
horrifying viewing for those who can take it.
might also want to check out the British gangster saga GANGSTER NO. 1, a
more or less straightforward drama that deals unflinchingly with
decidedly horrific themes, in this case insanity and mutilation. It
contains a prolonged torture sequence that remains the most disturbing
thing I've seen in quite some time.
Rounding out the Good
Stuff list, we come to M. Night Shyamalan's SIGNS, which has some great
scares, even if the climax was a bit on the stale side. And how 'bout
DEATH TO SMOOCHY? No, it's not really a good film-matter of fact, I'd
say it's a wretched mess-and neither is it a horror flick. But how can
any true horror fan not enjoy an alleged comedy that features dildo
cookies, ice skating Nazis and a kiddie sing-a-long called "Your
stepdad's not mean, he's just adjusting"? I can't imagine what could
have possibly induced Warner Bros. execs to green light this deranged
flick, but I'm sorta glad they did.
In another most untraditional development, there's much
to look forward to for the remainder of the year...and again, the
promising films well outweigh the not-so-promising ones. First and
foremost we have David Cronenberg's SPIDER, an old school horror movie
based on Patrick MacGrath's excellent 1991 novel. No US release date
has been set for this must see flick, but let's hope someone steps up to
the plate, and quick, because I CAN'T WAIT!!!
I don't know much about
the submarine chiller BELOW, scheduled to play theatrically this Fall,
other than the fact that it was co-written by indie sensation Darren
Aronofsky. I'm a BIG fan of Aronofsky's directorial efforts PI and
(especially) REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, so I'll be looking forward to this
one, even though Aronofsky didn't direct.
Another worthy upcoming
release is Claire Denis's French vampire saga
TROUBLE EVERY DAY.
Normally I'd never recommend a Denis film to anyone (having suffered
through previous CD opuses like 1992's deadly I CAN'T SLEEP), but this
film, which I recently caught at an advance screening, is powerful
stuff: a disturbing, uniquely Gallic, blood-soaked take on an
Other promising upcomers...
BUBBA HO-TEP, from PHANTASM'S Don Coscarelli. Bruce Campbell
as a geriatric Elvis? Teaming up with fellow old fart Ossie Davis, who
thinks he's Jack Kennedy, to battle a mummy? Based on a story by Texas
horror scribe Joe R. Landsdale ("The Night They Missed the Horror Show,"
THE NIGHTRUNNERS)? Sign me up!!! Now if only somebody would pick this
deranged flick up for release in the US! Another interesting film in
search of US distribution is the French "shock item"
written and directed by Gaspar Noe, whose magnificently nauseating I
STAND ALONE shook up arthouses a few years back. IRREVERSIBLE has
caused more controversy than any other film this year, and I for one am
anxious to see what all the shouting is about.
I'm not partial to
remakes, particularly when the original film is already close to
perfect. Such is the case with the superb
Japanese film RING, which has
been remade by Dreamworks. Not a great idea in my mind, but I have
heard good things about this new RING...and anyway, it stars MULHOLLAND
DRIVE'S excellent Naomi Watts. Worth checking out, but proceed with
caution. On the other hand, I contend that remaking Michael Mann's
extraordinary MANHUNTER (1986), the first and definitive Hannibal Lector
movie, is an absolutely ROTTEN idea, conceived simply so producer Dino
DeLaurentis can keep milking his HANNIBAL cash cow. Furthermore, the
upcoming RED DRAGON (the novel's original title) is to be directed by
RUSH HOUR'S Brett Ratner, NOT a filmmaker known for his skill with
While we're on the
subject of remakes, there are two more flicks I'm most definitely NOT
looking forward to. PEARL HARBOR director Michael Bay is currently
producing a totally unnecessary redo of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE,
promising to make it "hipper," while concentrating on suspense in place
of the gore that apparently saturated the original. Now as anyone who's
ever seen TCM well knows, there was hardly any gore in that film, which
makes me wonder if Bay and co. even bothered to see it. And get this:
George Romero's seminal DAWN OF THE DEAD is being remade with Diane
Lane, who, having already starred in turds like BIG TOWN, LADY BEWARE,
KNIGHT MOVES, JUDGE DREDD and MURDER AT 1600, continues to demonstrate
her unerring talent for picking the worst possible projects.
long-delayed HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, originally supposed to be released
by Universal two years ago (freaked out by its excessive gore, they
dumped it, as did New Line and then MGM), is finally set to hit video
stores sometime in October. I understand Rob Z. has watered down this
once NC-17 rated gorefest, which is now said to be choppy and difficult
to follow. Let's hope Rob makes the original cut available come
October. And what's up with Jim Vanbebber's loooooong in the
works CHARLIE'S FAMILY? Over ten years in the making, this no budget
epic from the singular director of DEADBEAT AT DAWN promises to be the
definitive film on all things Charlie Manson, and I for one am eager to
sample the end results...but will it ever be released? I hear it was
completed last year (but then, I've been hearing that since '97); if
such is the case, then please can we see the damn movie already?
On the DVD front...
The wealth of vintage fare being released on DVD
continues to astonish me. This year has already seen deluxe editions of
genre classics like BLIND BEAST,
THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, AUDITION,
JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, HITCHHIKE,
BEYOND THE DARKNESS (aka BURIED ALIVE),
ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (aka DR. BUTCHER, M.D.),
GRAPES OF DEATH, SHATTER DEAD
and quite a few others. And there's more to come! In the following
months we'll see NEAR DARK, SHOCK WAVES,
VIVA LA MUERTE, HERCULES IN THE
HAUNTED WORLD, DJANGO KILL!,
LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET,
SINGAPORE SLING and lots more.
The year's standout
DVDs? Well, there was Fantoma's release of Yazuzo Matsumura's 1969
Japanese classic BLIND BEAST, which happens to be an all-time fave.
Although the disk is pretty vanilla overall (which is to say: bereft of
special features), the gorgeous widescreen transfer and subtitles were
enough for me, a major improvement over the twelfth generation,
nonsubtitled, fullscreen bootleg I've had to make do with for so many
years. And although the transfer of American Cinematheque's
attractively packaged release of AUDITION isn't the best, the disk is
loaded with good stuff, including an illuminating interview with and
commentary from director Takashi Miike, and it boasts the year's most
innovative menu design.
You're also advised to
check out the recently released Special Edition of David Lynch's BLUE
VELVET, which in addition to a kick-ass widescreen transfer boasts an
all-inclusive 90-minute retrospective documentary on the making of this
eternal classic. Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE, my favorite film of '01, was
also released on DVD this year, in a seemingly vanilla edition...but
look closer. It was released with two different covers, one depicting
co-star Laura Elena Harring and the other Naomi Watts. Also note
Lynch's ten clues for decoding the film, which are as enigmatic as the
story itself (Clue No. 10: "Where is Aunt Ruth?"), and DL's minimalist
(to say the least!) "Biography": "Born in Missoula, Montana. Eagle
scout." And then there's Lynch's decision not to include chapter
headings, and his questionable digital blurring of Harring's
below-the-waist nudity in two scenes, done out of fear that the footage
might be displayed on the internet (so why shoot it in the first
So horror movie-wise, it hasn't been a bad yeah so far, eh? Let's
hope it continues to get better.