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A Progress Report on the Year So Far
 

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 bad ones.

The Bad...
    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).
 

The Good...
      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.

      Adventurous viewers 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.

Looking ahead...
     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 all-too-familiar subject.

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" IRREVERSIBLE, 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 horror movies!

      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.

      Rob Zombie's 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, SOCIETY, BLUE SUNSHINE, 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 place?). 

In summation...
     So horror movie-wise, it hasn't been a bad yeah so far, eh?  Let's hope it continues to get better.


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