September 30th, I watched Pet Semetery and Pet Semetery 2.
October 1st, I watched Sleepy Hollow.
October 2nd, I watched John Carpenter’s The Fog.
It’s October. Halloween is just a few weeks away and it’s (in theory) Autumn, which means that it’s time for a horror movie binge. I’m going to try and watch at least one horror movie a night, every night this month. Why? Because it’s a great idea.
As for the movies I’ve watched thus far:
Pet Semetery hold up very well; despite Mary Lambert’s uneven direction, it is an extremely effective horror movie. Stephen King’s script keeps the right tone throughout the movie, avoiding needless gross out scenes and keeping the horror about how terribly quickly the Creed family spirals apart. Fred Gwynne is inspired casting, fully embodying the Creed’s neighbor, Jud Crandall. On the other hand, casting Andrew Hubatsek a thirteen year old girl was stupid and ridiculous. Yeah, Lambert did it so that Zelda would feel a little off, but she didn’t just feel a little off, she was totally wrong. But then, Ms. Lambert is not a terribly good director. We see this in the sequel when she makes a craven and silly studio horror pic that gets wrong everything that the first one gets right. It’s a shame, really, considering that it featured talented actors like Anthony Edwards and Clancy Brown. But, then again, she did cast Edward Furlong in the starring role. In the end, the sequel was just a mess with a pretty incoherent plot line (it quickly runs up a body count so that it can have more shambling dead people), bad effects, plenty of gross out (oh my goodness, another seeping wound! that’s the stuff horror is made of!) bits and a silly conclusion where the boy’s dead mom comes back just in time for a cathartic moment for father and sun before the house burns down. A sad, stupid movie. But the original still rocks.
Sleepy Hollow … some of your effects haven’t aged well (I’m looking at you, witch in the western wood with your cartoonish eye popping gag), but so much of you has. This is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp doing what they do really well together, gorgeous gothic horror, with a fair dose of comedy. I haven’t seen Dark Shadows yet, but I’ll bet that the true failing of that movie was trying to transplant Barnabas Collins into Tim Burton’s version of 1972–the 70’s were plenty weird on their own, without Burton trying to make it his version of weird. Perhaps I’ll like it, but based on the trailer it looks horribly uneven. Now, for the movie that I did watch (many times, since the first in that St Cloud movie theatre in 1999), Burton creates a wonderous version of New York circa 1799. The characters are all strange, silly, and sinister, exhibiting both gothic horror sensibilities as well as fairy tale qualities. The Horseman is merciless and Depp’s Ichabod Crane is at the same time cartoonishly cowardly and brave and daring. I still love this movie and all of its silly weirdness.
Tonight, I rewatched John Carpenter’s The Fog, a great slow burn of a ghost story. It wasn’t terribly successful (though, neither was The Thing and that movie is AMAZING) but the way he portrays the normality of the townspeople is essential to the way the dread builds. I remember, as a kid, trying to watch it on television and being horribly bored by it–being accustomed, as I was, to monsters like Freddy and Michael Myers, with their steady body counts (and Freddy’s constant running commentary). But as I watch the movie more, I find I like it more (much like I’ve grown to like his extremely creepy The Prince of Darkness). Atmosphere is key. We follow several characters as the town prepares to celebrate it’s centennial, which we learn is an anniversary of a terrible act of mass murder. By the end, most of the characters end up at the old church, under siege by the ghosts in the fog, while they try to figure out how to survive. The ending is rather abrupt, and we get left with a feeling that there was a little less at stake then we though since the characters were not terribly well defined, but the atmosphere and the way Carpenter built suspense is really where this movie shine. His cast was pretty fantastic too, making us forget those shortcomings as the movie played: Adrienne Barbeau as a single mother who is the town’s Dee-Jay, Jamie Lee Curtis as a hitchhiker on her way to Vancouver, Tom Atkins as a local fisherman and ostensible protagonist, since he is following the fog’s mystery (Barbeau would be the other central protagonist, though her role is far more contained, most of the time spent at the lighthouse that serves as the radio station), Janet Leigh as a town councilmen of some measure (she’s the one who organizes the celebration and is next planning a restoration project of the cemetery, because “we should be proud of our history”) and Hal Holbrooke, as the town priest who is a direct descendant of one of the town’s original conspirators. Fun and creepy in a way that the shiny remake couldn’t hope to be.
As for the title, well, I promised a commentary on reboots and remakes months ago. Given the late hour and my the fact that my brain feels a little squishy around the edges, I don’t think that it will be a terribly eloquent statement on the subject, but I’ll give it a shot.
First off, I hate the term “reboot”, especially as it pertains to film. It’s a tech term; you reboot a computer. Films, I like to still believe, contain some little piece of art in them. In theatre, when a theatre stages Hamlet again, you don’t hear everyone talking about how they’re rebooting the play. When the Met stages Swan Lake for the thousandth time, it’s not a reboot. It is just another interpretation on that story, or that ballet, or that script. Why are movies different? Why do we have to call them reboots or remakes or reinterpretations … why can’t they just be another take on the story? This summer, The Amazing Spiderman came out with a new take on the character, new actors in all the roles, and everyone was all like “but it’s too soon, Sam Raimi’s last Spiderman movie was just a couple of years ago” or “why bother when we have those other movies?” The existence of this new film version of the character not only doesn’t erase the other films from existence (though, with Spiderman 3 that might be a good thing) but it gives us parts of the character’s story that the other trilogy didn’t explore. Every time a movie gets made there are a million choices that get made, including who should play what character and how we should tell this story. Translating a story from one medium to another, things have to be shifted, changed, condensed or edited out. Raimi did a great job telling his version of the Spiderman story, but why should his be the only version? While I enjoyed the first two Spiderman movies that Raimi made, I never really took to Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker–he seemed too stuck in that wide-eyed innocent nerd version of the character and never really dug into the gloriously weird edgy nerd side that Peter Parker also has. Enter Andrew Garfield, who, while also quite old to be playing a high schooler, got this perspective of the character quite well. And while the Gwen Stacy character was thrown away in Raimi’s third movie, she really breathes now that Emma Stone is playing her. And here is the thing that I never really got in the argument against this movie: at one point and time there were four or five Spiderman titles appearing monthly in the comic shops, each one tied together, but also possessed of their own story lines. In The Amazing Spiderman, Spidey might be fighting the Sandman, with in Spectacular Spiderman he is battling the Green Goblin, and in Web of Spiderman he is trying to save Mary Jane from Venom and Spiderman has him teaming up with the X-Men to battle Magneto. All in a single month. And we are supposed to be fine with one director and one actor in three movies?
Revisiting a movie isn’t always the best idea, sometimes it comes from nothing more than a desire to cash in on a title or a character in a misguided attempt to wring a few more dollars from perceived nostalgia. But sometimes, the germ of an idea in a movie, or a book, is good, even if the original movie isn’t and by revisiting it, it kindles enough of a fire around that idea that the new version of that story takes off. How many times have we revisited the Frankenstein story or Dracula? I feel like we would’ve lost so much if we’d just said: well hell, Boris and Bela already played these characters, nothing more we can do there. And, those weren’t even the original interpreters of those roles. John Carpenter again springs to mind, with his version of The Thing, previously The Thing From Another World, previously Who Goes There? David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.
I’m especially disinterested if the original film version twists the source material in such a way that it is relatively unrecognizable, and then is not a terribly brilliant movie. Paul Verhoeven’s take on Phillip K. Dick in Total Recall springs to mind. Yeah, it’s a fun movie, but it’s a fun Arnold Scwarzenegger action movie, not really the Dick story. Now, the Colin Farrell version had a little more of the Dick story in it, but it too departed wildly from the story. I still love that it exists though and that it didn’t go to Mars.
The term reboot feels to me like it is further turing movies into a commodity. That they are only franchises that can be punched out and that if they stop making money, then you just recast and retell the original story and keep pushing forward, counting your money. Yeah, a lot of movies are like that, but it’s not the case for every movie that builds its foundation on a story previously filmed elsewhere. Giving it a catchphrase term cheapens the whole endeavor in the same way that we commodify people and relationships by conflating their names (Bennifer, Brangela, etc). We should be better than that (of course, I say that in a world where a channel previously called “The Learning Channel” has a show called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and where Kim Kardashian is a fucking celebrity. If we want to reboot something, how about we just reboot all of that–start fresh. Or, better yet, let’s just cancel it. I’m pretty sure that’s what the impending Apocalypse is all about anyway (though, that seems to keep getting its release date pushed back …)
So, there. That’s my mini-rant on the subject. Peace out, bitches.
More later …