Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My favorite horror remake

The third and final classic horror film remake on my list is my personal favorite, although not necessarily the best. The Last House on the Left remake is perhaps a better film cinematically in my belief, however, I still contend that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best because it was much more successful and popular and appealed to a much wider audience.

This is probably going to be very long because I love this movie so much, so I apologize right now!

The Last House on the Left is another Wes Craven classic and was in fact his very first feature film. He had a very intriguing story inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film (The Virgin Spring), but perhaps not all the resources at the time to make the best adaptation of his vision. The resulting film was a shocking and violent gore-fest that put the country in a tizzy. People went absolutely nuts over this movie. It received an X rating when first sent to the ratings board and was banned in several countries for many years. Roger Ebert, however, liked the movie (yet he railed against I Spit on Your Grave - I don't get it), and over the years it has gained more credibility and admiration and is now considered a classic.

But classic or no, there was definite room for improvement on this film. Another first film by a first time director with a low budget and no-name actors. All of that turned out well, though. Some of the actors were in fact very impressive in their roles - David Hess as the leader of the gang Krug, and Lucy Grantham as Phyllis stand out the most to me. No, the biggest problem I have with the film is in terms of story.

Okay, for those that have been reading this and have no idea what this movie is that I'm talking about, here's a synopsis of the original. Two teenage girls, Mari and Phyllis, go into the big city one night to go to a concert. Trying to score some weed from a guy on the street, they end up in the clutches of a murderous little "family" of convicts. After some rape and humiliation in the woods, Phyllis is stabbed to death and Mari is shot. The convicts are left without a car and seek help at a nearby house which happens to be the house of Mari's parents. The parents discover what happened to their daughter and seek bloody revenge on the gang.

In my opinion, this basic storyline is a fantastic one to explore. However, Craven misses a few beats along the way. First of all, the scenes of rape and humiliation are interspersed with comical scenes of two bumbling sheriffs as they search for Mari, who has been reported missing by her parents. Craven has explained, and I certainly understand, his intent with these scenes - to create some uncomfortable-ness in the viewer by juxtaposing these horrific acts of brutality with an almost Three Stooges reenactment, with some wacky 70s music to go along with it. I don't think this was the best choice for the film. The second part of the film, the revenge by the parents, is completely dependent on the initial crime. It would have been so much more effective to concentrate on getting the emotion out of the audience for what happened to these girls, to make them so sad and pissed off at the people that hurt them that they will totally go along with the father taking a chainsaw to the guy who raped his daughter.

This is the main part where the remake succeeds. The story was stripped down to the basic emotional elements - here's the crime and here's the revenge. The first scene is the murderous gang busting Krug out of a police car and brutally killing the two police officers, so we immediately see how despicable these people are and just what they are capable of. The Collingwood family seems very loving, but have experienced some trauma recently from the death of a son. Mari does not die in this remake, so their revenge on her rape and attempted murder is more about protecting her and salvaging the remaining parts of their already torn family.

The other part of the film that was greatly improved upon was the scene of the discovery of Mari after her attack. In the original, Mari's dead body is found by her parents near the lake. The scene is literally less than minute long with hardly any real believable emotion by the parents over their daughters death. Boom, she's dead, next scene. They spent longer on the scene where the sheriffs get a ride from the chicken lady! The remake takes the scene much more seriously. In both films, the father, John, is a doctor but he actually gets to use his skills to try to save his daughter's life in the remake. This makes for an extremely emotional scene of him cauterizing her bullet wound, sticking a tube in her side to fixed a collapsed lung, and, as he's checking her for other injuries, discovering that she was raped.

Tony Goldwyn is fantastic in this scene, in the whole movie really. He's a talented actor that I had all but forgotten about and I'm so glad that he chose to do this movie (he was hesitant at first because of the violence). I'm still on the fence about Monica Potter in the role as the mother because at times it seemed like she almost didn't want to be there, to be in the movie, but then at times her crying and emotion was very believable. I'm not sure if it's not just her style of acting, though. She gives the same kind of awkwardness in the only other movies I recall seeing her in, Saw and Con Air. Going into the movie, I was most excited to see the actor playing Krug and if he could be as good as David Hess. Garrett Dillahunt does not disappoint as Krug. He's apparently played a bad guy before and it seems to be his forte. A mustache and beard and some black hair and totally looks the part of a bad-ass - but thankfully, not a bad-ass that you sort of like, which would have ruined the movie. He is a bad guy that you never like right from the start. He taunts the policeman in the beginning as the man is dying, he treats his son horribly, it's his decision not to let the girls go when they have a chance, he stabs Paige, he rapes Mari, and he shoots Mari. He has no respect for human life, therefore the audience has no desire to see him live. I would love to see this actor in more stuff.

I could go on and on about the directing and cinematography in the film as another way it improved on the original. I think, however, that the improvements in story were more important in the remake being about 10 times better than the original. I will say that I was incredibly impressed by the camera angles, composition, coloring, and just overall cinematography in the film. Some people look at me weird when I call this a beautiful film, but it really and truly is. There are also other things I could talk about, like responding to the controversy about the violence in the film, but that is perhaps left to another blog.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Number 2 Classic Horror Film Remake

The Hills Have Eyes!!!

I loooooved the remake of Wes Craven's classic, The Hills Have Eyes. Directed by Alexandre Aja, the man behind the awesome, inspiring, kick-ass, bloody, gory, and delicious High Tension, THHE was the perfect film for him to take on (after THHE, Aja directed Mirrors, another thrilling and creepy movie - the jaw rip scene is probably the most horrific thing I've ever seen).

Perhaps I shouldn't really be writing a blog comparing and contrasting the original and the remake because it has been WAY too long since I've seen the original.

No, wait. I just found it on YouTube. I love that site.

But seriously, the remake is such an exceptional horror film. It defines horror in both the aspect of gore and violence, and also in the sense of revealing the real horrors of humans. The basic story is a concept Wes Craven used in his first film, The Last House on the Left - two different families, one (for lack of better terms) good and one evil. The families clash in some way and the good, or normal, family is forced to become just as evil and ultimately murderous as the other family, so who is really the evil one?

In THHE, we have the quintessential mutant hillbilly "family." They are grossly deformed due to evil government nuclear bombing or some crap, and live in the hills in the desert, terrorizing, attacking, stealing from, and eating people that happen to travel through their smorgasbord of gross-ness. We really get a taste for what these mutants are capable of in the famous scene depicting their blitz attack on the trailer. I love this scene, and I love that the filmmakers had the balls to keep this scene just as relentless and horrible as the original. The dad is burned to death, the mother is shot, the younger daughter is raped, the older daughter with the baby is ruthlessly shot in the head, and the baby is kidnapped. Holy crap. Oh, and the one mutant bites the head off of a bird and drinks the blood from its neck.

I'm so surprised that a lot of this stuff made it into the final film... so many taboos in one scene. But that's what it takes to make a really successful and gripping horror film. You've gotta have the balls to show people things that they might not want to see. This is reality, this is what it takes to get people to show what they are really made of. What can a person or group of people endure and still have the will to live, to fight?

Such a great message behind the guise of a violent horror film. Viewers that just see that part of the film, though, don't know how to dig deeper and see the beauty that can exist in these types of films. The cinematography in THHE is gorgeous. The colors are all muted to blend in with the background of the dirt and other shades of brown of the desert. Splotches of color pop up in certain places - the red hoodie, for instance - but most of the film seems drained of color, which gives the viewer a real sense of place and feeling like they are in the desert too.

We've got some faces you might recognize in this movie from other small roles they've done, and the acting couldn't be better. The scene where Kathleen Quinlan, the mother, is dying, is so heartbreaking. Her facial expressions, the way she's shaking and obviously in immense pain... gosh, it's horrible. Vinessa Shaw's character is sweet, a new mother who lays down her life for her baby. I wanted so much to see more of her in this movie, and her character died way too soon. But it was a very good shocking moment for the film.

The violence and gore are at just the right levels, if not a little too much at times. The nerdy guy ends up carrying an axe and covered in blood by the end of the film, so what does that tell you? You'd think they wouldn't have much to work with in the way of setting, way out in the desert as they are. However, one of the characters stumbles across a very creepy makeshift town, apparently used in those nuclear bomb experiments in the fifties. The town is complete with mannequin families and fake appliances... plus some members of that mutant family that seem to make this fake town their home. Creepy little girl that has the face of an 70 year old shows up in one of the houses... *shudder*. Some excellent fight scenes take place in this setting, as well.

A good movie on its own, and an absolutely solid remake of a classic story from horror master Wes Craven.

Stay tuned for the number 3 best horror remake, which also happens to be my personal favorite of the three.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Remakes of classic horror films

This is going to be my weigh-in on the onslaught of remakes of classic horror films. A Nightmare on Elm Street just came out not too long ago, and it sucked. It sucked really hard. I Spit on Your Grave is coming out soon, and it's probably going to suck. Friday the 13th was probably the biggest suck of all remakes. No, wait, that award goes to One Missed Call... which was actually a remake of an Asian horror movie, which is a category all it's own. Let's stick to remakes of classic American films.

I have seen the remakes and the originals and I have a top three of the best remakes (thus far... 'cause Gosh knows there are going to be more). The best remake is not necessarily my favorite, but we'll get to that later.

The number one best horror remake is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In terms of sticking to the original storyline but making improvements where need be; characters; actors; and directing, TCM 2003 was a huge success. As much as you may love that classic original first film by Poltergeist-man himself, Tobe Hooper, you have to admit that the film is seriously flawed. It's a low-budget movie from the 70s with actors that are still unknown to this day. Yes, it has some creepy and gross-out moments (Grandpa sucking the blood off of Marilyn Burns finger?????? So wrong.) and the whole concept of this whacked-out cannibal family and a giant 'tard with a chainsaw is incredibly disturbing, but it doesn't really hold up well over time.

The remake improved the TCM legacy in so many ways. First of all, the characters. The most annoying film character I can think of right now is Franklin (the guy in the wheelchair) from the original. So they totally cut him out. Yea! Now add in Jessica Biel, a hippy chick, and three modestly good-looking guys and you've got a pretty good cast. There's no overly blatant stereotypes among the kids, no bitch or slut, or douchebag dude that the girls seem to love even if he is a douchebag... just some normal people in their 20s. They got good actors who took the film and their characters seriously and really turned it out.

The best and most memorable characters, though, are of course the members of the Hewitt family. In the original they were all kind of skanky, dirty, back woods dudes. They gave these new characters some real thought and got great actors, again, to play these roles. R Lee Ermy as the sheriff is the most memorable. An awesome character actor who really gets into his roles (maybe a little too much) and makes them special. Uncle Monty, no legs man in the wheelchair, is perhaps not as well developed, we just see him as a pervert because he keeps grabbing Jessica Biel's ass while she's helping him into his wheelchair. I don't know who the actress is who played the mother but she was absolutely fantastic. An old crone, the HBIC, just as disgusting and depraved as the men in her family. She can hold her own. Leatherface's character didn't really change much, but he didn't need to. Big guy, mind of a child, but knows how to work his power tools. You feel sorry for him, maybe, but not really when he's chasing you around the house with a chainsaw.

The action and chase sequences were awesome (although we didn't get a reboot of the famous dinner table scene until Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), with great set design and locations. The Hewitt house, its basement, the slaughterhouse, the crazy neighbors' trailer... they all give you a great sense of time and place in the context of the film. Set design was especially helpful in getting the real feel of the film. The whole movie is just DIRTY. Dirty characters, dirty deeds, dirty houses. The people in the movie are sweaty and dirty like they haven't showered in a few weeks. The house and other sets are dirty, cluttered, dripping with water, covered in dried blood - ook! I just wanted to jump into the movie and hose down everybody and everything I could touch.

They totally upped the gore and violence and I loooooove that. The movie can't be called Texas Chainsaw Massacre and not have someone getting their leg cut off or getting split down the crotch with a chainsaw. So thank you, filmmakers, for that. You know what we want.

All in all, great improvement on character, great actions, great gore and violence. Awesome horror film, that is just as good as, if not better than, the original.

The number 2 remake is coming next blog.