Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Through a cross between serendipity and morbid curiosity, I've been catching up on some slick, sick horror flicks of wildly varying value. First up was the latest installment of "Friday the 13th," which was sort of billed as a remake/reboot but really plays like a (surprise) ill devised sequel. It looks nice enough, from a filmmaking standpoint, but plays like it was written in a week or less. Just really lazy and poorly conceived, albeit well (er) executed. The other day I got a package containing three more of the sequels, in deluxe editions: Part IV ("The Final Chapter," ha), Part V and Part VI ("Jason Lives"), the first of which is probably the best of the whole batch, and the last of which probably both the smartest and dumbest. Dumb: introduction of totally unkillable, back-from-the-dead zombie Jason. Smart: lines like "so, what were you going to be when you grew up?" spoken from one pre-adolescent camper to the other while Jason kills off their counslers.

Next up on the agenda was catching up with Eli Roth's sometimes riveting, sometimes risible, mostly vile and reviled "Hostel," about a handful of Americans abroad who get abducted and basically graphically tortured for no particular good reason. The movie's the modern day progenitor of what's been deemed "torture porn," and I suppose rightly so. There's no real emotional investment in either the victims or killers, just the horrible way they're killed, and the way Roth injects some very light political statements and satire into the script is facile at best. Basically, ugly exploitation stuff gussied up just enough to make it fall well short of its potential.

"Drag Me to Hell" is also exploitation, but brilliantly so. The movie (in theatres now!) marks a return to horror from Sam Raimi, after he detoured to Hollywood and directed the three "Spider-Man" flicks. This one is low-budget but brilliantly conceived as an homage to the classic British b-movie "Curse of the Demon" as well as Raimi's own masterpiece "Evil Dead II," with just enough humor lightening up the rueful, grue-full movie but mostly with Raimi devising a series of sneaky jumps and scares that, unlike the movies above, simply aim to surprise and entertain. Hence the mild PG-13 rating. The scares are real, yes, but this is neither as bloody as most current horror movies nor as intense as, say, "The Dark Knight," which was also PG-13 and not really bloody, but should have been R for its relative unpleasantness. "Drag Me to Hell," on the other hand, is a total fun house devised to be seen in a full theatre, for maximum audience reaction.

Incidentally, I was warned at the ticket counter that because this was a pre-noon showing, if any mothers with infants or small children showed up they would be obliged to turn the sound down. I looked at the ticket taker and asked the obvious: what kind of mother takes their kid to a movie called "Drag Me to Hell?!"

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