Friday, November 16, 2007

Horrorfest 2007 Report #12: Horrific Bliss

It has been an amazing Horrorfest this year. It sounds like the type of thing that is said every time one of these things comes to an end, but it feels like this was by far the best Horrorfest I’ve ever put together. Highlights of this year include the Korean monster flick “The Host”; the Rob Zombie serial killer western “The Devil’s Rejects”; the original and first sequel to the modern Dead Teenager Movie model “Halloween”; the master class of films from directing giants Nicolas Roeg, Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman; the hidden horror/comedy gems “Dead End”, “Black Sheep”, and “Fido” (thank you Trev for the first one on that list); the Canadian ballet/silent revision of the vampire classic “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary”; the religious thriller “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”; and the psychological quagmire of “Bug”. I learned a great deal about horror in the ‘70s from the IFC doc “The American Nightmare”; revisited treasured personal classics in “Fright Night”, an episode of “The X-Files”, and “Twilight Zone: The Movie”. I was frightened and delighted by the works of Stephen King in “The Dead Zone”; “1408”; and the TV anthology series “Nightmares & Dreamscapes”. I was even surprised by the recent flops “Mr. Brooks”, “The Reaping”, “Severance”, and “Day Watch”.

Of course there were movies I would have been better off to avoid, although not as many as in previous years. Topping this year’s list of avoid at all cost would be the terrible z-movies “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, the Nicolas Cage remake of “The Wicker Man” and “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die”, all made at the same mentality level -- a shade above retarded. Nor would I wish “Stay Alive”, “The Return”, or “Resident Evil: Extinction” on my dearest friends. And the Rob Zombie remake of “Halloween” was just disappointing.

There are four more films that have not yet been discussed. I hope you enjoy reading about the final four and continue to send in suggestions of your own personal favorite horror films for future Horrorfests in the comment section of this post.


“The Invisible” could have been a great film. It is a ghost story that amazingly didn’t originate in Japan or Korea. It follows a teenager who is beaten almost to death in the woods one evening. Existing somewhere between life and death, his ghost seeks out his would be murderer to convince her to confess to where his body is hidden.

Director David S. Goyer (screenwriter for the “Blade” trilogy and “Batman Begins”) does a great job establishing the creepy, depressing, saturated northwest coast atmosphere of the Washington state location. And the screenplay by Mick Davis and Christine Roum, based on the novel by Swedish writer Mats Wahl, explores how tricky this ghost’s situation is in getting people to notice him without the ability to physically impose himself on their surroundings. The filmmakers take their time in establishing the ghost’s condition, which is well suited to the teenage mindset of never feeling you fit in or are understood by adults.

The adults are poorly portrayed in the cases where they are developed, as with the kid’s overwrought mother, or just non existent. The cops only seem to exist to impose and inflame the kids’ sense of adult oppression.

There are other detail elements of the film that are handled poorly by both the screenwriters and the director. For instance when the police finally have a chance to find the kid before he dies, no effort is made to call ahead for anyone near the location to prevent any further harm to him. The scene is exploited as an attempt to milk some extra suspense but just makes the police seem incompetent. A simple weak-signaled cell phone call would have allowed the same effect with a plausible reason for the suspense.

This is a film I would have loved in high school. It’s filled with the angst that fuels so many teens and has a killer soundtrack. As an adult, it is too easy for me to see its weaknesses. And I now realize how little teens understand the adult world. A good filmmaker can impart some adult enlightenment and capture all that typical teen trauma at once.


Earlier this year I reviewed the newest movie version of the classic Jack Finney sci-fi novel “The Body Snatchers”. “The Invasion” was trashed by critics, however I felt this modern update of Finney’s strong commentary about what makes us human did a good job of incorporating current world views into its story. Perhaps the most highly regarded version of Finney’s story is the Philip Kaufman-directed “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” from the late ‘70s.

In watching this sci-fi/horror classic for the first time since I was a child, I can confirm that there is good reason for this to be considered the best version. Not only does it reflect the changing societal climate from the flower power of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to the Reaganomics that changed the free-loving hippies into materialistic yuppies along with conveying Finney’s original ideas about the individual spirit of humanity, but it is utterly creepy in the way it portrays the way people are being replaced by vegetative clones.

It is also notable that in the ‘70s it was actually possible to show full frontal nudity in a PG-rated movie. Certainly if PG-13 had existed as a rating back then, it would have been utilized for the type of nudity in this film. Studios today cannot separate nudity from sexuality, so such nudity wouldn’t sneak by without an R rating today. But that freedom of ‘70s filmmaking enabled filmmakers a very direct way to show the innate vulnerability of humanity through the nude form.

I suppose the nudity in this film is not entirely without some sexual suggestion, but sex is not the point. Certainly there is some temptation in the peaceful way of life offered by the alien virus which produces the pod clones, just as the nude form in which the newly reborn clones is tempting to those unaffected who view them. But at the same time it is quite disturbing and off putting to see humanity in this vulnerable state. Maybe if we were to become an entirely peaceful society we would then become vulnerable to threats of all kinds that in our current state of conflict we could never imagine.


Speaking of the disturbing, there is perhaps no other film screened during this year’s or any previous years’ festivals more disturbing than Takashi Miike’s “Audition”. Of course, calling this movie disturbing is like holding your hand directly over an open flame and calling it hot. Seeing it and then calling it disturbing is only providing obvious information to anyone who has seen it or might seriously be interested in it.

The story involves a widower who is encouraged after many years by his son and a friend to start dating again. His friend is a film producer and suggests that he should sit in on one of his auditions to feel some candidates out. It is not a surprise to find that the most attractive possibility to our hero also happens to be the most sinister. There is a scene when the widower calls the woman after their first date to ask for another that is at once inexplicable and necessary to draw the audience in. I won’t describe it (however you can view it below), but this is the point where as an audience member it becomes your duty to yell at the screen, “Turn back! Don’t do it! Leave her alone. You’ll regret it!” despite the fact that you know this will do the man no good.

Other than this scene, not much horrifying happens until the last few minutes. There are some strange dream sequences and a good deal of urging from the widower’s friend not to rush headlong into this relationship, but nothing to prepare you for what happens in the closing moments of the film.

It occurs to me that I’m not sure just why this film should appeal to anyone, but it is intriguing, even fascinating. Is it a cautionary tale? Is there a morality message here? Certainly, it has both those elements, but I suppose it appeals most to that human instinct that will have us stand and observe a car crash or countless people getting nailed in the family jewels on a program like “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. Most assuredly there is nothing funny about this film, but it is hard to look away, even once just looking becomes painful.


“May” is possibly the most innocent film I’ve seen during this year’s Horrorfest. It is like “Audition” in that throughout most of the film nothing too horrific happens, but you just know that something sinister is lurking. May is the most precious of characters. I fell in love with her knowing that she would do something terrible in the end. I almost didn’t want the film to turn horrific I liked May so much.

May, as played by Angela Bettis, is an odd duckling to say the least, a social outcast that draws people to her out of curiosity over her overt strangeness. Now, there are reasons for her underdeveloped social skills, but she is trying to achieve some sociability. She tries so hard, but has no basic foundation upon which to place her newly discovered social interactions.

She becomes infatuated with a man who is interested at first because he “likes strange”. But when he shows her a clever student film he has directed and she takes it a little too literally, he decides May just might be a little too strange. May tries to let go of him, finding some comfort in a girl she knows from her work in a veterinary office. But May feels betrayed by this woman eventually as well.

There is no doubt throughout these relationship experiments of May’s that they will go sour in a way that would make Glenn Close’s character from “Fatal Attraction” seem like a minor annoyance in one’s life, but writer-director Lucky McKee does such a good job making you want May to succeed and spend the whole time hoping for everything to turn out alright. When it all goes south, it is a crushing blow that is disappointing because you know it had to happen and splendid because you want anyone to have wronged this wonderful monster to pay, no matter how reasonable they were.

“May” is a simple horror film. It is classic in that sense and made for a wonderful closing film for this year’s festival. It isn’t filled with righteous overtones or subversive undertones, other than May’s own social perversions. It is a film you can just sit down and enjoy without having to put any thought into what it all means. And yet it is still a multilayered exploration into a specific horror subject. May’s horror lies entirely within character and plays upon the audience’s need to accept as much as May needs to be accepted. It is a horrific bliss.

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