Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creature Feature: In Brief

Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza - REC 2 (2009)

The first REC, while by no means a masterpiece, was a solid and original piece of horror film-making, doing something a bit different with the zombie genre and making unwontedly welcome use of the hand-held camera – and indeed, managing to extend on the technology and hence the mise en scène. The second, to my lights, is even better – though straying outside the confines of the sealed-off apartment block in a way which breaks the claustrophobia which worked so well in the first instalment, the inclusion of further back story and character diversity makes for a more complex film without losing the simple momentum of the first (and now, with a twist…)

George A. Romero - Diary of the Dead (2008)

A disappointing Romero vehicle in which, unlike the aforementioned, the use of digital hand-held disappoints and irritates, encompassing all the typical flaws of these genres (i.e., severe frustration with the camera holder who however remains untouchable due to their status as such; unrealistic failure to put it down in life-threatening situations). Meanwhile, the internet themes fail to cohere into meaningful social commentary a la Dawn of the Dead. Watch Zombieland instead.

John McTiernan - Predator (1987)

Another in the ‘I can’t believe I’ve never seen this’ canon, this was a surprisingly atmospheric film, with the shadowy South American jungle as the main character – striated shadows dappling the blazing sun and the sweat and blood of the action film. The USA redeems its sanguinaceous Cold War interference in its ‘backyard’ through the trope of the pursuit of Latin terrorists (managing to allay the inhumanity of this killing and also feminize the victims even as we fear their violence by leaving alive the lone female terrorist as a prisoner who ultimately becomes an ally), while nodding to 80s political correctness, such as it was, in the black characters and, naturally the native American who has an intimate connection with the ways of the jungle (all of these sacrificeable, naturally). The ‘reveal’ comes surprisingly late in the piece, and the strangely honourable predator, before he (?) is revealed as an overgrown dreadlocked insect, segues in with the natural world as a ripple in the trees (with effects which haven’t dated too badly, unlike the technology he uses). Apocalypse Now, filtered through the lens of an unironic Schwarzeneggerian (gubernatorial?) all-Americanism.

Jon Harris - The Descent 2 (2009)

Another film in which the environment is the protagonist – in this case, the same cave system in which the protagonists of the first Descent (Neil Marshall, director of the original, returns only as executive producer) found themselves trapped – again, we spend somewhat more time outside the closed environment, here becoming a flaw, and there is also the somewhat unrealistic, but effective, choice to send the sole survivor of the first film back into the tunnels. Essentially we are re-exploring old ground in a less effective rehash of the first film, which was an entertaining diversion with some early moments of fear and claustrophobia before ‘descending’ into a fairly typical monster gore hunt (colour-coded, a nice touch) – here, without the benefit of that unfamiliarity, while the caves remain an original and atmospheric setting, despite a final twist there is nothing here which adds meaningfully to the film’s predecessor.

Wes Craven et al – A Nightmare On Elm Street 1-4 (1984-88)

I wasn’t actually sure if I’d seen the first, but I’d certainly never seen the sequels. And what pleasant – or should that be unpleasant? – surprises were in store! Unlike other the other classic protagonists of the genre – Jason Voorhees & Michael Myers – these films did not have the stigma of having given birth to the rather unnecessary slasher genre, but instead of playing an important role in the development of the blockbuster horror comedy (not to mention the ongoing horror-queering of the all-american dream suburbs) – and we love ‘em for it (and I’m not just saying that because we’re inhabiting here my favourite decade of the twentieth century – the 80s)! Camp as all get-out, with absurdist, ‘body horror’ pre-CGI special effects (reminiscent of other films of the era such as the unjustly neglected Society, or even Videodrome) which invoke a great deal of nostalgia – and a twisted, Burtonesque atmosphere to boot – not only the initial NOES, but also, unusually, the sequels, are extremely worthwhile. Part 2 is noteworthy really only for the extremely overt (and apparently intentional) homoerotic elements (with just a touch of B&D in the shower room), but 3 kicks into high and rather dark gear – featuring Freddy’s intended teenage victims in a mental institution as a result of their belief in the reality of their dreams, and the unexpected appearance of Patricia Arquette (not to mention Laurence Fishburne) - a punk edge, and rather nasty addiction and sexual violence themes (these latter in the development of Freddy’s backstory), also creep in. Part 4 can’t quite live up to the claustrophobic institutionalization and traumatic edge of the third film, but nonetheless it remains a romp, featuring particularly memorable scenes in which Freddy inhabits a roach motel and a pizza (!), as well as an extension of the theme, used to brilliant effect throughout the series, of the indistinguishability of the line dividing reality and fantasy, in a time-loop sequence. Oh, and I was forgetting, we also have a soundtrack showcasing Sinead O’Connor with MC Lyte performing the ultra-catchy I Want Your Hands (On Me) – not to mention the Are You Ready For Freddy rap by the Fat Boys featuring Robert Englund. Dark comedy of the absurd, accompanied by nostalgia for the tainted eighties.

1 comment:

  1. I've only seen the first of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and that was on VHS years ago. I remember being pleasantly surprised by it as well. Although Wes Craven's finest moment remains The Serpent and the Rainbow, one of the few modern zombie movies I've enjoyed.