Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Horrorfest 2007: A Preview

October is just around the corner, and once again I find myself frantically rearranging my Netflix queue in preparation for my annual Horrorfest. That spooking time kind of snuck up on me this year, and I seem to be making my preparations at the last possible moment. Each October I dedicate the majority of my movie watching to one of my most favorite genres: horror. But like many great loves, there is a hate side to my relationship with horror films, which might explain my belated preparations.

Much of the horror genre is filled with sub par attempts, with the creators often confusing jarring editing and gratuitous gore for actual scares. The horror genre is often a starting point for filmmakers that have yet to learn the value of story and character development. If you can’t relate to a victim, it is hard to be scared for them. And all too often horror films fall into cutout formulae and predictable schlock.

This was the case for this year’s primer flicks. Most years I build up to my October shock fest with a couple of horror flicks seen in advance of the official beginning of Horrorfest (the final weekend in September). This year’s primer films will hopefully be a couple of the least satisfying.

Halloween (2007). This summer I learned just why someone might release a movie called Halloween in August when I screened the Rob Zombie “re-imagining” of the John Carpenter classic “Halloween”. I was considerably harsh in my critique of this lack-luster remake of one of my favorite horror films of all time, because it seemed to hold so much promise. But according to friends with equal enthusiasm for the original material, but a less severe reaction to the remake, the term “lack-luster” certainly applies.

Zombie has carved a name for himself in the modern horror genre, with his films “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”, as a filmmaker with an eye for the perverse but a keen sense of character development of the most depraved sorts. His take on “Halloween” was to focus more on the development of the serial killer Michael Myers, which demystified the villain and took much needed attention away from Laurie Strode, the heroine of the story. The result is a film that somehow seems rushed and yet too slow to pull the audience in long enough to get to the horror. Zombie utilizes some great visual elements that unfortunately do little to help connect the audience with the characters.

The Return (2006). This film was released with little fanfare 10 days after the Halloween holiday last year. Starring current scream queen Sarah Michelle Gellar as an industrial equipment saleswoman who returns to the area of her childhood to close a big sale only to find she has a strange connection to a woman who was murdered in the same area some 15 years earlier, this movie seems to lack the emotional hook necessary to carry the horror which is intended by it.

Once again, director Asif Kapadia incorporates some interesting visual and story elements, but fails to provide the scares to go with them. Kapadia has the patience to develop the story and characters, but never gives the audience a reason to care for them. The most disappointing element of the film is its resolution, which provides a fairly weak connection between Gellar’s heroine and the murdered woman.

Early disappointments aside, 2007 promises one of the best Horrorfests I’ve had yet. I received several suggestions from friends after the conclusion of last year’s Horrorfest, including the aforementioned “The Devil’s Rejects”, Nicolas Roeg’s psychological thriller “Don’t Look Now”, the road movie horror flick “Dead End”, the Gothic horror “Hour of the Wolf” from Swedish character auteur Ingmar Bergman, modern silent film revisionist Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary”, indie cult flick “May”, and J-horror director Takashi Miike’s classic “Audition”. I will also try to catch up on some of this past year’s plethora of horror releases like “Bug”, “1408”, “The Number 23”, “Vacancy”, “The Reaping” and “28 Days Later”. Of course, with Netflix’s policy on new releases going to people with smaller queues first, some of these entries may have to be replaced by more readily available titles. I also plan a trifecta of darkly humorous zombie flicks (the monster not the former rock star turned director) from across the pond in “Severance”, “Fido”, and the were-sheep comedy “Black Sheep”. I may catch up with the “Saw” franchize, and plan to take in the entirety of TNT’s Stephen King inspired mini-series of mini-movies from last year “Nightmares & Dreamscapes”. The festival opener promises to be one of the best horror entries of 2007, the much raved about Korean monster flick “The Host”. And as part of my continuing film series presented for friends in the Marshall area under the unofficial banner of the Marshall Film Society, we will be revisiting the 1978 remake of the sci-fi horror classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

It promises to be yet another fright-filled Horrorfest, which I only wish I could share personally with each and every one of my readers. Please, take a gander at what I’m watching this month, read my festival reports, rent what you are interested in, and be sure to give yourself a few scares this October. I know I will.

Buy it: The Return
Buy it: Halloween movies

A scene from Halloween, not as scary as the original.

And one of the few frights from The Return.

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