Friday, September 26, 2008

Horrorfest 2008 Preview: Horror on the Brain!

I walked outside a couple of nights ago and—thanks to an unusually mild temperature year here in Missourah—the smell of fall was in the air. Summer had given way already to the refreshing breeze of a new season—a season where the old begins to make way for the new. And as I breathed in that slightly tangy scent of fall, I knew the bloodbaths of Horrorfest were just around the corner; and that glazed-over look of suffering that the summer heat brings gave way to the glint of a bedeviled perversity that compels so many to sit in a dark room and scare themselves silly.

Although, the smell of fall gave me this thrill of anticipation I feel every year as I stock my Netflix queue full of gore and grisly screams, it all nearly snuck up on me this year. I’ve been busier than ever with my writing and reviews, plus my house is under major construction and my three-year-old is at that age where every hour he is awake requires strict attention to keep him in line. Talk about terror!

October is my favorite month of movie watching all year because of this little obsession I’ve created and dubbed Horrorfest. Unlike most film festivals, this one consists for the most part of one audience member—myself. But I invite all of you readers to join in viewing the films I watch every year during my own personal film festival. So get your rental queues ready!

This year I’m presenting my most structured playlist in the eight years that I have held Horrorfest. The biggest area of focus during this year’s fright fest will be in the area of horror remakes. I plan to watch a couple of originals and their modern remakes throughout the month, including the recent reinterpretations of “Prom Night” and “Funny Games” and their better received original versions. I will also view the recent US remakes of J-horror hits “Mirrors”, “One Missed Call”, and “The Eye”. And I will watch the 1951 original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in preparation for the December release of the remake starring Keanu Reeves.

I’m also going slightly sequel crazy this year in a study of the recent trend in the “torture porn” subgenre of horror. I’ll be catching up on the “Saw” series by taking in episodes II-IV and hopefully the theatrical release of “Saw V”. I’ll also finally sit down and watch Eli Roth’s popular “Hostel” and “Hostel II”. And I’ll watch perhaps the ultimate torture porn, the highly controversial and critically derided “Chaos”. In the sequel set I will include two documentaries “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and it’s follow up “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”.

Of course there will be the standards subgenres of zombies (“Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, “Undead”, “Diary of the Dead”, “The Signal”, “American Zombie”) and vampires (“Skinwalkers”, “30 Days of Night”, “The Fearless Vampire Killers”). My look into the vampire subgenre will also include an overview of the first few episodes of HBO’s new series “True Blood”. There will also be a couple of scares aimed at kids, including “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, “Igor”, and Tim Burton’s cult-turned-popular hit “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.

I’ll also try to find some hidden gems in movies that may have been overlooked like “Awake”, “The Orphanage”, “Prey”, “Scarecrows”, “P2”, “Stuck”, and the HBO mini-series from last fall “Five Days”. As usual there will be a couple of goofs like 1976’s rats-attack picture “The Food of the Gods” and Uwe Boll’s latest anti-masterpiece “Postal”. And I’ll try to figure out what happened to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening”. And I’ll watch an old acquaintance’s first feature film, Carter Smith’s “The Ruins”.

As usual this list is not set in stone. There will be titles I won’t get to, and some theatrical releases that I haven’t listed might drift into town. I’d really like to get a peek at “Quarantine”. One of the pleasures of Horrorfest is that I might just happen along something on cable or even in my own library, and discover a movie I hadn’t planned on watching, but was so glad I did.

One such movie that was not intended to be part of my Horrorfest lineup, but served as a wonderful appetizer because of its creepiness and ghost-themed story was Guy Maddin’s tribute to silent film “Brand Upon the Brain!”.

Actually, every movie I’ve ever seen of Maddin’s is a tribute to silent film. Last year I watched his “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” for Horrorfest and it was one of the best Dracula movies I’ve ever seen. It was essentially a filmed ballet of the classic Bram Stoker story, and Maddin’s silent film-inspired directorial style was perfect for it.

“Brand Upon the Brain!” however, is the best Maddin effort I’ve seen. It is a ghost story about a man named Guy Maddin, of all names, who returns to his boyhood home. Located on a secluded island where his parents once ran an orphanage, Guy relives the traumas of his childhood in flashback, all narrated by Isabella Rossellini. Young Guy lives under the close protection of his mother who oversees all from her lighthouse telescope, but begins to feel the oppression of her control over him when a famous child detective arrives at the island to investigate the strange behavior of Guy’s parents. Of particular interest to the detective is Guy’s sister who show signs of experiments run on her by her father, signs that all the orphans share.

If the plot sounds strange, the film is even stranger but so well suited to the silent format. It is not truly a silent film because of Rossellini’s narration, however it has been presented theatrically by Maddin with live narration and score. All of the other film techniques are right out of the silent era, and they reveal what great qualities the silent era held for film, especially those of a creepier nature. The whole thing has an otherworldly feel to it that compliments the supernatural nature of its subject matter.


Alan Bacchus said...

Cool. Thanks for the preview. Looking forward to it. A suggestion I might make (maybe for next year) is the emergence of F-Horror - the new crop of extreme French horror films. ie. "Inside" or "Frontieres"

Andrew D. Wells said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I love recommendations. Maybe if I wait till next year on the F-horror, Hollywood will have already destroyed the subgenre with a bunch of hastily-made remakes.