Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Horrorfest 2006 report #1

It is that time of year again. Leaves are beginning to turn. Oscar buzz is starting to flutter through the movie magazines. And television networks that aren’t unveiling their new shows are bolstering their libraries with horror flicks everyone has seen so many times we don’t care if they are interrupted by commercials anymore.

It is one of my favorite times of year. The Oscar buzz is just drivel at this point. Writers looking for favors from studios for giving advance word on movies that aren’t even finished editing and scoring yet. I don’t know if that is true, but considering how accurate these early predictions usually are, it sounds likely.

But, no, it is not great cinema that excites me about this time of year. Some of it is great. Most of it is bad. But for some reason, I just love horror movies.

I am a film fanatic. I revel in both good and bad cinema. And perhaps there is no other genre in cinema that can offer more of the worst and best films ever made than the horror genre.

In past Horrorfests I have looked at classic horror flicks and new takes on B level films made with A level budgets. I have watched schlock and Oscar worthy endeavors. I have watched pure horror and films that are only marginally horrific. I have watched films that honored the genre through spoof and biography. I have even watched non-horror flicks that just involve an element that could be scary in some way.

Last year in particular (which I failed to report on at the time), was a Horrorfest that seemed to include even more non-horror titles that actual horror movies. Many of the best films I watched during that Horrorfest weren’t horror films at all, and last year lead to the discovery of some gems; like the brutal winter-set spaghetti western “The Great Silence”, “Crazy Fruit”, a Japanese youth cult film that married “Rebel Without a Cause” with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, Gus Van Sant’s harrowing film based on Kurt Cobain’s final days “Last Days”, and the wonderful bio-pic of Z movie creator “Ed Wood.”

But of course I also plumbed the horror genre for many great films, including the Francis Ford Coppola cult classic “Dementia 13”, the 2005 release “Land of the Dead”, the surprisingly fresh Stephen King adaptation “Riding the Bullet”, and the amazingly creepy Korean ghost story “A Tale of Two Sisters.”

This year’s festival promises to be another month of fun. I plan to look at the British cult classic “The Wicker Man”, which just inspired a new American version in theaters now. I’ll also revisit the freak show film “The Elephant Man”; the Steven Spielberg penned “Poltergeist”, and a werewolf flick I was turned onto just two Horrorfests ago by a friend of mine “Ginger Snaps”. For the non-horror flicks I will look at the Korean revenge flick “Lady Vengeance” and a festival favorite this year about an internet predator that gets what’s coming to him in “Hard Candy”.

But most of what I have in store are fairly recent mainstream Hollywood horror fare, like the remakes of “The Omen”, “The Fog”, “Dark Water” and “The Hills Have Eyes”, the video game inspired “Doom”, “Silent Hill”, and “Bloodrayne”, the sequel “Saw II”, the imports “High Tension”, “Wolf Creek”, and “Irreversible”, and the thrillers “Stay”, “November”, and “The Forgotten”.

I may not get to them all, but I’m gonna have fun trying.

To kick off Horrorfest 2006, I went to a group that specializes in spoofs and their send up of the slasher subgenre in “Broken Lizard’s Club Dread”. “Club Dread” was the comedy group’s second effort after the wonderfully funny police spoof “Super Troopers.” With their first film Broken Lizard proved an ability to produce a smartly written comedy of stupidity. Like so many of today’s comedies “Super Troopers” was about people acting like idiots, but it wasn’t idiotic itself.

“Club Dread” tries to plant this same strategy of smartly written stupidity into a send up of today’s typical teenage slasher flick. Unfortunately, the success level isn’t quite as high on their sophomore effort. It is almost as if they are biting off more than they can chew. “Club Dread” tries to make fun of B level slasher flicks with the comedic philosophy that the best comedy is played straight. It could stand as a slasher flick all on its own without being a spoof. And it would be better than most you run into. Much better than say the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” series, from which it steals the tropical island setting from “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.”

A serial killer is bumping off all of the Coconut Pete’s Island Paradise employees. That basically sums up the plot. Bill Paxton (“Twister”, “Titanic”) turns in a good comedic performance as Coconut Pete, a Jimmy Buffet-esque crooner who has turned one of his songs about beaches and booze into a theme resort.

The cast (who are also the writers) have fun with the slasher flick clich├ęs. Some work very well as comedy; like the running gag of the false crisis, a shock turning out not to be the killer but someone actually doing something rather innocent. Some are too gruesome to be funny like the plethora of different ways to kill a person utilized here. There are some very good ideas and jokes; but, like the human Pacman game here, the laughs are often too much of a chuckle and not enough of a guffaw and get buried in the earnestness of the horror delivery.

For someone who is a real film buff, as Broken Lizard themselves seem to be, this could be enjoyable watch. It may even be worth it for horror buffs, like me. But for most people “Club Dread” won’t really represent anything special.

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