Thursday, 2 July 2009
Movies You Should See
I have friends. And not all of them are into horror movies. But every now and again, one of them will show curiosity and I'll provide them with insights and suggestions, easing them into the genre. With encouraging words like "try it, you just might like it" and "don't be a pussy", I urge my friends to expand their cinematic horizons and indulge in a bit of inbred cannibalism or demon slaying or virgin killing.
And so, in the grand tradition of telling other people what to do, I've thought back on the advice I've doled out and come up with "The DM's list of 9 or 10 horror movies you should see because even if they're not the best, they're meaningful to the genre for reasons which I will explain".
It might seem a bit of a cop-out to suggest Halloween. Frigging everyone wants you to watch Halloween. While technically not the first slasher, it was the first big successful slasher and woke people up to this new kind of horror movie. Halloween features a masked villain whose size, strength, and (relative) anonymity represents an unknowable evil, one that is both human and inhuman at once. Michael Myers is a man, but he's also a monster who stalks and kills for no reason we can understand. Halloween launched John Carpenter's career, and introduced Jamie Lee Curtis as the 80s' scream queen.
Another no-brainer. Scream introduced the world to self-reflexive horror cinema. Though it wasn't the first postmodern horror movie, it was by far the most successful. Scream's ironic set-up, in which the characters fail to understand they're living out a horror movie, ushered in a new sub-genre of horror and a lot of similar-style movies were made in the late 90s and early oughts. The film also brought Wes Craven back into the limelight. As a sidebar, Scream inspired a wave of horror spoofs.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
I do suggest seeing the original, but I'm advocating watching the remake. Most of the big horror movies of the 70s and 80s have been or will be remade, and most of those have done or will disappoint the audience in general and the original fanbase in particular. In spite of changes to the story, The Hills Have Eyes delivers the same gritty horror seen in the original and features one of the most hard-to-watch home invasions. Made by French filmmaker Alexandre Aya, the movie is a hard R, and when it premiered in 2006, nothing with the same quality or quantity of violence had been seen in theatres in a long while. All effects save one are physical effects.
Wrong Turn (2003)
Wrong Turn came out at a time when most horror movies were about mutated animals, supernatural killers, or pop culture. What this movie offered instead was a return to simpler times; Wrong Turn is a back-to-basics horror film in which a group of people must either outwit or outrun a family of inbred cannibals. That's it. The film makes no comment on society or culture, and the story is about as simple and straightforward as it gets.
A made for TV movie, It might not have the best effects or the biggest scares, but it did frighten a whole generation of kids. Tim Curry is absolutely terrifying as Pennywise, the penultimate evil clown. Though a large number of Stephen King stories have been adapted for the big screen, It was the second to be rewritten for TV, and it's success lead to more and more television gigs. Both the book and mini-series suffer from a disappointing ending, but it's really more about the journey than the destination. It was nominated for two Emmys and won one, and is being remade as an R-rated theatrical release.
Braindead a.k.a. Dead Alive (1992)
Long before he won a hundred Oscars for LOTR, Peter Jackson recieved money from the New Zealand government to make Braindead. Better known as Dead Alive in North America, Braindead won 13 assorted awards and holds the title of being the goriest movie ever made. Both funny and disgusting, this movie is referenced in Jackson's King Kong. It's cult, it's camp, and it's a staple of the genre.
I have seen exactly two Takashi Miike films, neither of which are Audition. Miike is perhaps the hardest working filmmaker today and his films run the gamut from children's fare to ultra-violent. Though a lot of his work is unknown to North American audiences, Audition is generally thought to be among his best and most accessible. Also, like most all his movies, it's violent, gory, and hard to watch at times. You won't find anything like him produced in America. Eli Roth doesn't even come close.
To be perfectly honest, I simply don't know enough about Asian horror to speak with any authority on the subject. I recommend Ju-On simply because it is the scariest movie I've ever seen. Granted, the circumstances under which I watched this film had a lot to do with me being scared shitless, but I'm pretty sure if you are a) open to non-traditional storytelling, and b) subtitles, then you'll probably enjoy Takashi Shimizu's original Grudge. Note, this movie features a long-haird ghost.
The Thing (1982) and/or Alien (1979)
Both these movies feature monsters from another world. Monsters which we do not and cannot understand. The movies don't wax philosophical on the nature of life and evil, though the humans in both films are fighting for survival. Perhaps more sci-fi than horror, these two movies deal with themes not unfamiliar to the horror genre. Paranoia, isolation, and betrayal underscore the fear that comes with having to face the Other. The Thing is perhaps John Carpenter's greatest achievement, though it wasn't very popular at the time. Alien is among Ridley Scott's best work, and one of his few genre entries.