Tag Archives: Remake

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Movies 2017

The Last Knock

 

What does 2017 have in store for the horror fan? Well, Billy and Jonny take a look at the year ahead to uncover upcoming macabre movies from The Blackcoats Daughter and XX to Psychopaths and Rock, Paper, Dead. But wait! There’s more! The year will bring many a sequel as well as remakes, and we’ll look at them today.

Billy apologizes for the occasional cough and for feeling a bit out of it – thanks to the damn flu. But the show must go on, and Billy’s happy he wasn’t patient zero for the zombie virus.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@ScreamHorrorMag @SiaraTyr @LianeMoonRaven @ScarecrowVideo @patricia_eddy @machinemeannow @ValeriePrucha @DeadAsHellHP @stycks_girl @Israel_Finn @MelanieMcCurdie @TimothiousSmith @RealJillyG @issacrthorne @mickeykeating @st_vincent @StephenKing @JordanPeele @THETomSavini @palkodesigns and John Eddy

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference – Part II by Jonny Numb

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So here’s the thing: along with Green Room and Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters was one of my most anticipated movies of 2016. That’s right – an uberfan who had faith in the comedic track record of the actors and the quality of Feig’s previous efforts (Bridesmaids, Spy, and the short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks”) had me itching with palpable anticipation. As with any big-budget reboot of a long-dormant, much-loved franchise, the potential for greatness or awfulness is equally present, resting on the simple fact that you can’t please everyone.

Is the new Ghostbusters completely successful? No. At times, the actors are allowed to venture too far into improvisational territory (a flaw in all of Feig’s films), which stalls the pace. Some of the punchlines don’t land, and at times, the characters’ deliveries are so feverish that one feels the writers were going for broke in the sheer volume of attempted gags. In the last act, some of the action choreography is hard to follow (but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling). And the cameos from the original cast members often stick out like a sore, shoehorned thumb (I will say, though, that they saved the best for last). All that being said, one of its biggest successes is replicating the sense of camaraderie that informed the all-male teaming of the original: this has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with smart characterization. I loved this scrappy new paranormal collective, from Kristen Wiig’s meek, puritanically-dressed college professor; Melissa McCarthy’s outspoken scientist; Leslie Jones’s street-smart, take-no-shit transit officer; and especially Kate McKinnon’s discombobulated, non-sequitur-uttering physicist (Feig gets some of the biggest laughs from cutaways to her incredible reaction shots). While Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary is a hit-or-miss one-note joke, it’s nice to see the Avengers star poking fun at Hollywood’s fickle attitudes toward the expectations that come with physical beauty.

Perhaps there’s some buried logic to the phenomenon of sight-unseen hatred toward Ghostbusters, something that could be attributed to J.J. Abrams’ ascent to the Spielberg throne as the newly-minted master of the any-season blockbuster. Spielberg has long been considered a strong storyteller and adept visual stylist, but has also earned heckles for his overt sentimentality and saccharine dramatic cues. With a latter-day Spielberg flick, regardless of the subject matter, it’s a fairly sure bet the type of film you’re going to get.

With Abrams, whose successful updating of the ultimate fanboy franchises – the one-two power punch of Star Trek and Star Wars – has rendered him one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. But this has come not from a wild embrace of risk, but rather an aversion to challenge. Granted, his interpretations of these much-loved, generation-spanning series make for rousing, big-budget entertainment, but the level of risk doesn’t really extend beyond the wild-card actors he uses to fill out the cast (unknowns – or lesser-knowns – buffered by thespian lifers). And even then, the Star Treks lean on Leonard Nimoy cameos and characters who, despite the new faces inhabiting the roles, have already had decades of development. The same goes for The Force Awakens, where all the virtual ink spilled over Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her influence over the future of female-led blockbusters was marginalized by Abrams’ over-reliance on giving fans their due with the requisite appearances by Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammill, and the usual gang of costumes and CGI. Ridley is fine, but plays second banana to the wistful nostalgia most fans paid for, making one wonder at the reaction had none of the established characters and actors logged an appearance. Personal friends (more well-versed in the Star Wars mythos than I) tend to be of two schools of thought on the film: that it’s great in spite of – or because of – its heavy leaning on the plot of A New Hope.

Like Spielberg, Abrams is a fine storyteller who also happens to have his finger on the pulse of what the public wants. It’s interesting to gauge my reaction toward Super 8 – his foray into original storytelling – and how the stunning visuals attempted to wrestle the disjointed plot into submission. With nods toward E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Abrams once again looked to well-established nostalgia to win over audiences and critics. I responded to the characters’ relationships while struggling with the arbitrary plot developments and ILM-styled overkill. The film has an 82% “fresh” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, but its existence in 2016 seems relegated solely to jabs from critics comparing it to the NetFlix series, Stranger Things.

Which begs the question: Is there simply greater appeal for mainstream films that give audiences what they want, every time, with a minimum of surprise? While Marvel’s comic-book juggernauts continue to kick dirt in the faces of their seasonal competitors, the films themselves hit familiar beats and draw appeal largely from the impressive ensemble casts that tie the action together. Is there an emotional pulse? Sure. But when will this mass-marketed bubble burst?

To be concluded…

Part III available Wednesday, August 31!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by Geek.com.)

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference* – Part I by Jonny Numb

ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-imagesRowan (Neil Casey), the central villain of the new Ghostbusters, is a nerd. He’s so lame, in fact, that he erroneously flashes the hand-sign for “love” – not devil-horns – as he walks into an Ozzy Osbourne concert. His modus operandi is to provoke enough spectral disturbances around New York City that he unleashes a concentration of angry ghosts into the world. He insists that their voices, like his own, have fallen on deaf ears – “kindred spirits,” if you will, to his own underappreciated, “the-world-must-pay-for-my-failings” mentality.

When Rowan optimizes his powers, he resorts to the lameness of having a bunch of cops and National Guardsmen strike Saturday Night Fever poses for his own amusement. Furthermore, he even co-opts the classic “Ghostbusters” logo and repurposes it in order to take on his final form, which bears a resemblance to a slightly less blobby Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

It’s hard to tell whether the character of Rowan was a bit of snarky commentary in director Paul Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s script, which hews closely to the story structure and character-development style of the1984 original. It was a given that a few kooks hiding behind anonymous social-media handles would take to the web to spin their opinions on why an all-female version of Ghostbusters could never work, but the reality was a more widespread outcry.

Like the Westboro Baptist Church, the trolls of the Internet found their target, lugging a ten-ton bucket of bile on their backs in an act of assumed pop-culture purism. When prolific YouTube personality James Rolfe (better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd) released a video stating why he wouldn’t be seeing the new film, he became a folk hero to those anonymous online voices while stirring the anger of trolls eager to burn a path to the film’s box-office failure.

I guess they figured Feig, Dippold, and everyone involved with the new Ghostbusters owed them something – that “something” being a reboot sans estrogen. The outrage even prompted distributor Sony to buckle, promising the outraged contingent a male-centric version, a development that has gone curiously silent. (And I gotta say: what a bunch of pussies for undermining their own film.)

I didn’t go out of my way to read any of the vitriol; I didn’t seek out negative hashtags on Twitter. I have enough real things to worry about in my life – things that affect me on a daily basis – without going out of my way to find more things to get pissed off about (I haven’t been a teenager or a twentysomething in a long time). Granted, I will admit that one of my favorite pick-me-ups is reading negative reviews of the Electric Factory (a popular Philadelphia concert venue) on Yelp – the difference being, I can vouch for the awfulness of the venue based on years of experience attending concerts there (fuck you, Ticketmaster!).

For me, the art of slagging something only takes on artistic value when you’ve actually exposed yourself to what you’re slagging. If you’re basing your opinion solely on conjecture, rumor, and a 2-minute trailer without having seen the film itself, then you deserve to be shamed when someone who’s done their due diligence calls you out on it.

Granted, I read articles about the backlash for months before the film was released. While it is customary to respond to remakes, prequels, and sequels of well-regarded films with apprehension, the pre-emptive scorn loaded upon Feig’s Ghostbusters was more hair-raising than witnessing an actual supernatural occurrence. We horror fans might be the most apprehensive of all, perhaps because our much-beloved genre receives so little respect in the first place: many among us bristled at the notion of The Hills Have Eyes being remade, only to discover that, hey, Alexandre Aja actually knew what he was doing!

Funny: I am as big a fan of the original Ghostbusters as anyone else. That film, and especially the long-running cartoon series, served as my gateway drug into the worlds of horror and the fantastic. Even though the film is not formally classified as being a part of the genre, you can find it reviewed in VideoHound’s Horror Show, John Stanley’s Creature Features, and my first-ever book on the genre (which I still own) – Movie Monsters (“Ghostbusters is scary and funny,” author Gary Poole proclaims). I can nerd out about the Murray-Aykroyd-Ramis-Hudson films with the most devoted of nerds, and that is something I take great pride in.

To be continued…

* Author’s Note: The title is a deliberate nod to Barry Keith Grant’s The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, which I would recommend to anybody interested in gender studies as it relates to the horror genre.

Part II available Wednesday, August 24!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by IndieWire.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: MARTYRS and the Systematic Torture of the Horror Remake – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

maxresdefault[2008. 99 minutes. Unrated. Director: Pascal Laugier]

[2016. 86 minutes. Unrated. Directors: Kevin & Michael Goetz]

*** This review contains SPOILERS for both films ***

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs was a lot of things, albeit in a deceptive manner: blunt, brutal murders that seem nihilistic and unprovoked take on greater resonance late in the game; characters in the throes of psychosis are later revealed to be sane (or, at the very least, not uninformed in their actions); and scenes of systematic physical destruction are not executed without an underlying purpose. It was a film icy in its aesthetics, finding unexpected warmth in highly dubious characters that the viewer does not necessarily associate with until it is well on its downslope. As a cultural marker, it fit well within the surge of French horrors that defined a couple impressive years in the late 2000s, to say nothing of its inversion of the roles and responsibilities of women in regard to a genre that – to put it kindly – often seems confused as to what comprises a strong female character.

All that being said, we rotate back around to the eternal question: to remake or not to remake?

We’ve reached not only a saturation point with what producers will consider for the remake treatment, but an impasse where the meta implications of retreading old material is a rabbit-trail into an unanswerable void. I no longer question the rationales that drives the remake machine – I just react to the news accordingly, and watch at my own risk. I think the argument of a remake “ruining” the original is the hyperbolic flavor of many apocalypse-predicting critics, while the reality is actually much simpler: there is nothing in any remake (not even Psycho or Funny Games) that could render the individual films completely indistinguishable from one another.

And Martyrs is no exception. The rumors rumbled around for a while (initially – and unsurprisingly – at the Dimension Films meat grinder), but – like that long-mooted Hellraiser remake that got tossed around like a hot potato – never seemed to gain traction. Horror fans posited the notion that an English-language version of one of the most punishing, authentically brutal, and straight-faced horror films of the millennium could result in nothing more than a compromised, watered-down product.

If we’re being truthful, though, remakes like The Last House On the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Maniac have not only retained faithfulness to their forebears, but maintained – if not exceeded – their levels of violence (and, survey says, are mostly well-regarded among genre fans these days).

For its part, Martyrs 2016 maintains a grim tone that doesn’t flinch from the extremes of its characters’ actions, which is admirable. While the emotional consistency of the performances can be dodgy from scene to scene, I can’t deny that certain moments of suffering got under my skin in a manner not unlike Laugier’s original. Where the film is lacking is in its pacing, production design, and plot execution. Scenes that flowed with a hypnotizing, effortless power in Laugier’s film have been rendered clunky and overly explanatory here.

As before, the film begins with Lucie (played as an adult by the superhero-named Troian Bellisario) escaping from a white tent in a seedy warehouse where she’s been physically abused. Taken in by an orphanage, she slowly warms to the friendly advances of Anna (Bailey Noble as an adult), despite suffering PTSD and an unshakable sense of wanting vengeance on her tormentors. Flash forward a decade, and an idyllic breakfast (in what appears to be California wine country) becomes a blood bath as Lucie murders an entire family. When she informs Anna – understandably horrified by her friend’s actions – the duo becomes implicated in something far greater than covering up a crime scene and dealing with the resulting moral and legal fallout.

On THE LAST KNOCK podcast, Crash Palace site-runner Bill Prystauk summarized Laugier’s Martyrs thusly: “it’s torture porn with a philosophy.” And therein lies what separates it from the empty HOSTEL films, or the increasingly ridiculous (and hypocritical) treatises on “the value of life” doled out by Jigsaw throughout the SAW series. The film served a smorgasbord of abuse and very literal bodily destruction that found transcendence – and an odd redemption – in its quest to uncover the answer to that unknowable question of what happens after we die.

Unfortunately, the Goetz Brothers’ Martyrs is wonky on a variety of fronts. Running a scarce 86 minutes, the storytelling feels impatient, and there simply isn’t enough time to feel tremendously for the characters and their situation. While the performances of Bellisario and Noble are, well, noble, the former lacks the overtly unlikable coldness of Mylene Jampanoi, and the latter falls into hysteria before undergoing a less-than-believable transformation into a badass in the third act. The filmmakers also miscalculate in the decision to incorporate an imprisoned little girl (Caitlin Carmichael) as a bit of connective tissue to Lucie’s tormented past. Clearly intended to raise the stakes, this thread follows a standard arc that guarantees her safety in the end.

And in a story as thematically heavy as this, the remake loses the existential enormity of Laugier’s thesis, ultimately going through the motions and holding the viewer’s hand through rickety dialog and bad-guy performances that mistake inexpression for menace. The underlining and bolding of intent doesn’t get more transparent than, “It isn’t torture when it’s for a higher purpose.”

The most interesting divergence between the two films is the Goetz’s insistence on incorporating a religious subtext into the proceedings. Their use of crucifixion imagery is persistent and heavy-handed, resulting in more eye-rolling than insight. Whereas the creepy Madame (Catherine Begin) offers a tidy dismissal of religious intent during her compelling “modus operandi” speech to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) in Laugier’s film, there is a certain amount of logic to switching from the secular to the spiritual for the American take on the material. The use of religion as a narrative and thematic device could have deepened the remake’s interpretation of the material in a unique, fresh way – not to mention its potential to explore the hot-button fundamentalism that runs rampant worldwide. Instead, it becomes a surface-level bit of difference for difference’s sake. (Though in all fairness, it doesn’t fall into the same parodic silliness that damned Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man.)

Insofar as the films’ aesthetic qualities are concerned, this new version is crippled by a low-budget feel. The family massacre at the beginning has considerably less impact, stifled by corner-cutting CGI; and while the torture scenes have their share of jaw-loosening passages, there is a truncated quality to the carnage on display – which, in the case of the film’s ultimate point, robs it of an essential, visceral suffering. Furthermore, the mysterious, scarred-and-chained tormentor that pursues Lucie from childhood to her ultimate fate has been transformed from a frightening J-Horror specter to an oversimplified version of a bug-eyed witch.

While Mark L. Smith’s (The Revenant) script reshuffles the order of events and incorporates a few more speaking roles (including a priest complicit with the cult’s actions), the most curious alteration to the original Martyrs is its handling of the Lucie/Anna relationship. Laugier’s film was a ride of sharp, unexpected turns; none more surprising than the exit of Lucie at the beginning of the third act, and the escalation of Anna as the film’s true protagonist. Here, the Goetz’s maintain a buddy-movie dynamic up until the climax, which would be poignant if it weren’t so unpersuasive in its execution. (The suggestion that, by virtue of their own shared experience growing up in an orphanage – not the same shared trauma – qualifies Anna to join Lucie as a white-eyed member of The Beyond rings false, and comes across as a concession on the filmmakers’ behalf to make the final blow less despairing, which is its own despairing cop-out.)

Appraising remakes can be frustrating, and the task of comparison is often thankless. Something like Martyrs is especially difficult, since there are passages of assured filmmaking, serviceable performances, and a clinical – albeit shallow – devotion to the facets that gave Laugier’s film such a signature, sledgehammer impact. Where it falls short is the crucial connection required between tone and aesthetic to make an essential imprint…proving that some things just can’t be replicated.

Martyrs (2008): 4 out of 5 stars

Martyrs (2016): 2.5 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

(Martyrs 2008 photo via YouTube.)

Crash Analysis: Best Horror Movie Remakes

Yes, like most film lovers, I hate remakes too. But don’t fall into this ludicrous trap: body13Hollywood does not indulge in remakes because there aren’t enough great scripts (or ideas) floating around. As a screenwriter, I know this all too well. I’ve read many scripts that will amaze, but will never see the light of day, unless the screenwriter chooses to make the movie on his/her own.

Hollywood (or any large “independent” studio) goes the remake route for one thing only: money. Filmmaking is a major risk, and this lackluster summer has been the worst in ten years for the movie industry. This means, new and original fair for audiences is costly. Sure, studios took risks in the past, but once the blockbuster was discovered, thanks to Jaws and Star Wars, for example, the Hollywood just wants to hit grand slams every time (sorry about the baseball euphemism but it fits here). However, if a studio reboots a franchise, or remakes a tried and true film, there’s almost a guarantee they will earn a profit – especially if the original did extremely well the first time, or secured a rabid cult following afterwards.

This doesn’t mean that all remakes are horrendous and should be avoided. As for horror, some remakes truly stand out on their own, and the original may ultimately find a place in that particular film’s shadow. What follows is my top ten horror remakes:

 

The Thing (1982) – 5 stars

Story: A group of American researchers discover a parasitic alien that imitates its host.

John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece is a remake of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, based on John W. Campbell Jr. story, “Who Goes There?” I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this movie nearly a gazillion times (I watch it once every two months) because of several factors: excellent story, great acting, compelling characters, and one hell of a frightening and hopeless situation – and of course, Rob Bottin’s stellar effects, which had all of us freaking out in the audience when I was a teen. The original, although beloved, lacks that hopeless element, and James Arness’s “thing” comes off more like a Frankensteinian monster who’s seemingly part zombie, instead of some advanced species from outer space. Even so, giving both films a whirl is a good thing.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – 5 stars

Story: Aliens invade Earth via pods, which serve as conduits to replacing people’s souls.

I saw this in theatres when I was a kid and almost had to run out when Donald Sutherland annihilated his alter evil. Philip Kaufman’s film, based on Jack Finney’s novel, delivers an oppressive atmosphere that’s inescapable. To be honest, the 1956 original with Kevin McCarthy did the same exact thing. In the original, McCarthy’s character was supposed to point at the screen, breaking the fourth wall, and yell, “You’re next!” but the pathetic filmmakers thought that would be too frightening for audiences. Once I learned that, I went completely bald. Anyway, at least Mr. McCarthy got a chance to deliver that line in the amazing remake, which sports one stellar cast, including Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Brooke Adams, and more. Do not miss the special effects that still hold up.

 

The Ring (USA/Japan, 2002) – 5 stars

Story: If one watches a bizarre videotape they will die in seven days.

Ringu rocked American shores sometime after 1998, introducing many to the wonders of J-horror. Although I love Japanese horror films, especially the work of Takashi Miike, the only thing Ringu did was put me to sleep. Gore Verbinski’s remake, backed by the strong writing hand of Ehren Krueger, delivered a grand horror/mystery with a colorized yet gray atmosphere, great acting, and one hell of a heroine in the always amazing Naomi Watts. The CGI and the practical effects are stellar. But it’s finding a way out from certain death that brings enough power and intensity to rival the over-hyped original.

 

Dawn of the Dead (USA/Canada/Japan/France, 2004) – 4.5 stars

Story: Zombies rise and a group of humans take refuge in a mall.

George A. Romero’s original is one of horror’s most beloved films. Though I can clearly understand that, and do appreciate the effort, the comedy business completely undermined the movie and left me severely disappointed. Zack Snyder’s remake, however, delivers the intensity, with one hell of a foreboding thrill ride. Granted, the original may have explored the shallowness of America’s consumer culture, but the remake’s immersed in the fact that America has not only embraced its hyper-consumerism, but revels in it. Although this means the story could have taken place in any venue other than a mall, such a setting allows the characters to almost trick themselves into believing that they are surviving in a world they can comprehend. This is why the ending is so jolting and terrible to the audience once they leave the comforts of “home.”

 

The Crazies (USA/United Arab Emirates, 2010) – 4 stars

Story: The US Army accidentally unleashes a virus that turns people into paranoid killers.

The original from 1973 is my favorite George A. Romero film. Therefore, when the remake came out, I was skeptical if not angry, but director Breck Eisner captured the unease that permeated the original. Better still, to carry the film, he put the picture in the more than capable hands of Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. Watching small town America unravel and not have the chance to fight back and saves themselves made me think of the nation’s current state of monopolies, as if Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target were ultimately responsible for the town’s demise instead of a wayward virus. Eisner brings us an action horror that captures the helplessness of the original as the characters fight to survive a series of obstacles that humanity had put in their path long beforehand.

 

Toolbox Murders (20034) – 4 stars

Story: Renovations at an old Hollywood hotel leads to the rise of a killer supernatural force.

Tobe Hooper delivers a solid, deviant tale of murderous horror like an Italian Giallo. Starring the always extraordinary Angela Bettis, she’s thrust into a mystery where her own life’s in jeopardy. One of the great things about this film is that Hooper keeps things subdued with minimalist flair, which only adds to the intrigue, claustrophobia, and horror. The remake is leaps and bounds above the cheesy, lackluster original from 1978. Instead of something hokey, peppered with bad dialogue, Hooper and company deliver something that resonates with tension to leave us unsettled in our seats.

 

The Uninvited (USA/Canada/Germany, 2009) – 4 stars

Story: A mental patient reunites with her sister to prove her mother may have been murdered.

Of all the remakes on this list, The Uninvited is the most subtle. In fact, it wasn’t until the third act where I realized this was based upon A Tale of Two Sisters, the brilliant Korean horror. Granted, many seem to despise this film or laugh it off, but directors Charles and Thomas Guard bring us the uncanny with potent suspense that only enhances the mystery of the story. The fabulous Emily Browning shines in the lead, and David Strathairn gives us another powerful performance. As remakes go, this film is more of an “inspired by” piece, though many fans of the original instantly hate the movie because of its link to the modern day classic.

 

Black House (South Korea, 2007) – 3.5 stars

Story: An insurance agent investigates a killer he suspects of collecting insurance premiums.

Terra Shin’s film is a remake of the Japanese original from 1999. Among the murder, blood, and mayhem, this dark film is highly sensualized, which only adds to the disturbing nature of an “every man” squaring off against a killer with a mission. The acting is solid, as well as the effects, along with compelling cinematography from Ju-young Choi. Though not a perfect film, Shin presents a strong mix of character, emotion, and atmosphere to keep the audience engaged as the mystery unravels. Admittedly, I have yet to see the Japanese original, but this is highly ranked on my horror list overall.

 

Night of the Living Dead (1990) – 3.5 stars

Story: Zombies rise and a group of people fight to survive from a farmhouse.

The original George A. Romero film turned zombies into ghouls and forever changed the horror landscape. To even think of remaking such a poignant film may seem blasphemous to many, but Tom Savini, who first worked with Romero on 1976’s Martin, took the reigns and brought us a solid reinterpretation. Starring the beloved Tony Todd, the remake is important for two reasons. First, Savini included a scene that Romero had to abandon: the hanging of zombies from trees. In the original, a horrific and criminal real-life lynching had given Romero pause. Second, the character of Barbara (originally “Barbra” played by Judith O’Dea) is no longer a sniveling, scared female ready for a man to save her, but an independent, locked and loaded woman ready to fight for life and limb, thanks to the great Patricia Tallman – who would have bitch-slapped the older version of herself.

 

Willard (Canada/USA, 2003) – 3.5 stars

Story: A socially inept man befriends rats that take care of him.

Crispin Glover brings the character of Willard to life in grand fashion. Supported by a great cast, which includes the pinup beauty of Laura Harring, and the inner malevolence of R. Lee Ermey, we are catapulted into a dramatic and quirky tale of boy meets rat. The tone of the film is equivalent to not being able to land on the right frequency for a radio station, though we love what we’re hearing, which only adds to the twisted flavor of Glen Morgan’s film. The 1973 original stars two character actor greats: Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine, but like many low budget fair from the seventies, rubber rats and flat camera angles didn’t cut it, because that helped create a boring if not long-winded story. Instead, the remake, thanks to the stellar work of Glover, keeps one riveted to the screen as Willard’s story unfolds.

 

Honorable mentions: Cat People, The Fly, I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House On the Left, Maniac, Mother’s Day, Nosferatu the Vampire, Quarantine, Silent House, Silent Night, and The Wizard of Gore.

Yes, a list of the Worst Horror Movie Remakes is forthcoming…

(Photo from Reflections On Film and Television.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: EVIL DEAD (2013) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[91 minutes. R. Director: Fede Alvarez]    new-evil_dead-poster-thumb-300xauto-36035

It’s time to declare a moratorium on movies that feature a cabin, a woodsy setting, and supernatural goings-on. When Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard unleashed THE CABIN IN THE WOODS in early 2012, they made the EVIL DEAD remake obsolete a year in advance.

Talk about prophetic!

Therein lies the irony, as the original EVIL DEAD helped spawn the scenarios and clichés that CABIN so successfully skewered.

But had that film never existed, would this remake have succeeded? I doubt it. In 1981, writer-director Sam Raimi created a micro-budget horror with a bare-bones plot and a lot of technical chutzpah. In 2013, director/co-writer Fede Alvarez delivers a hatchet job in the form of a bad postmodern joke. You’ll laugh, but for the wrong reasons.

You needn’t look further than the closing credits – displayed over a seemingly endless montage of blood spatter – to see what’s really fueling this enterprise.

Alvarez’s film starts with tentative promise: a young five-some treks out to the deep woods, but not for the reason horror films typically favor. Mia (Jane Levy) is a recovering addict looking to detox with the help of her pals. David (Shiloh Fernandez) is her cowardly mechanic brother; Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a schoolteacher; Olivia (Jessica Lucas) is an RN; and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) is…the obligatory blonde girlfriend. I was pulling for these paper-thin characters to anchor us for the long haul, but the film quickly becomes a competition in who can display the least common sense most often.

For as self-aware as the genre’s become, some of this stuff is totally unforgivable. Plot purposes aside, why read an incantation from a book bound in human flesh? The answer: just because! Why would you walk down rotting cellar steps to console someone who is clearly possessed? The answer: just because! Why would you not blow away an armless demon who’s shot you full of nails? The answer: because I got feelings for her! It’s shit like this that drags the genre down, and makes its fans look like buffoons with blood on the brain.

While the supporting cast spends the film begging for plausible motivation, Mia is cranky and unlikeable. This becomes more bothersome when she’s possessed by Pazuzu, vomiting tomato soup and growling variations on “your mother sucks cocks in hell.” I get it: this new EVIL DEAD is reaching for a message (addiction = possession!) amid its m.o. of pushing the limits of bodily harm. Yet any deeper meaning is lost in the rush to build a better gore film.

The much-touted practical FX are as jaw-dropping, cringe-worthy, and creatively sick as anything glimpsed in THE EXORCIST, ALIEN, or John Carpenter’s THE THING. Yes, sports fans – theyre that good. While little else lives up to expectations, people will talk about how this film brought in-camera effects back from the dead.

For as much as I’ve torn it limb from limb, EVIL DEAD contains isolated moments of stylistic brilliance (the demonic force speeding through the woods; the image of a flooded stream; a macabre live burial) placed within a classic setting that inspires fear by default. Alvarez builds some suspense amid the mayhem, and his use of light and shadow is commendable. The resistance to underlining every scare with a booming sound effect is also admirable. If any of it meant anything, EVIL DEAD’s excesses might have been cathartic or exhilarating – but in the end, you’ll probably feel just as beaten and bloodied as the characters in this mess.

And that’s pretty fucking far from “groovy.”

 

2 out of 5 stars

 

For more cuddly thorns from Jonathan Weidler, be sure to visit…

 

Review Blog (all-genre): http://numbviews.livejournal.com

Twitter: @JonnyNumb

 

A big THANK YOU to William D. Prystauk and CrashPalace for hosting this review!

(Photo from Twitch Films.)