Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a new weekly column here at Movies.com that focuses exclusively on horror movies. I’ll be ironing out the format (and possibly changing the title, I’m definitely open to suggestions) over the next few entries, but in it you can expect to find commentary about the most interesting news of the week, mini-reviews of what I’ve been watching, and finally a look forward to what’s on the horizon in horror.
The Horror News:
Several bits of major news have hit over the last 48 hours, but since everyone is already well aware of them, I’ll just offer up some quick thoughts so we can get to the less talked about items of interest.
Kripke Sells Haunted -- Tell me that the guy who wrote 2005’s Boogeyman has sold a new screenplay (which he'll also direct) to Warner Bros., and you’ll see me shrug my shoulders. But tell me that the guy who created Supernatural, the best horror TV show you’ve always written off, sold a new screenplay, and I’m biting at the chomp to hear more. I am a rabid fan of Eric Kripke’s Supernatural, which is a vastly better TV show than the commercials ever make it out to be. Hell, there are feature length horror movies coming out of Hollywood that aren’t even as imaginative or as gory as this primetime show, and while that’s a condemnation of studio horror, it’s also a testament to just how kickass Supernatural can be (this transformation clip from Season 1 is more gruesome than the changing in The Wolfman).
As for Haunted, all we really know is Variety’s vague description, “a tale of a haunted house told from the ghost’s point of view.” It’s intriguing for sure, but what lands this high on my watch list is absolutely Kripke’s involvement. I just hope it’s got half the enthusiasm for the genre that Supernatural has.
Reanimating The Evil Dead -- The biggest news of the week is of course that Sam Raimi is finally producing a long-rumored remake of The Evil Dead, that Freddy Alvarez is directing it and that Diablo Cody is punching up the script for it. People have already exploded at the notion of Cody, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, giving Ash all kinds of Jennifer’s Body-esque quips instead of stoic one-liners, but she’s not what raises a red flag for me. What has me apprehensive about the remake is first time feature director Alvarez at the helm. It doesn’t matter that this will be his first feature film (the original was Raimi’s), what bothers me is that what got Alvarez the gig was Panic Attack, his homebrew short about a robot invasion. Sure, it shows plenty of promise and resourcefulness, but I’m not excited by the idea that someone whose gateway to Hollywood is a CGI fest is the best person to remake a beloved horror movie whose strongest asset is its physicality. The Evil Dead needs to be dirty and gritty and, above all else, practical, and that’s just not the vibe I get from vis effects guys who turn to directing.
Ethan Hawke Headlines Untitled Horror -- News hit today that Ethan Hawke has signed on to star in an untitled horror movie produced by Jason Blum (Insidious), directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and written by Derrickson and Christopher Robert Cargill (who you’ll best recognize as Massawyrm from Ain’t It Cool News). Now normally a single bit of casting in an ambiguous horror movie isn’t enough to excite me, but the thing is I’ve read this script.
All that’s been outed about this Untitled Scott Derrickson Movie is that it’s a horror movie that centers around a crime. And while that’s true, it’s selling the story a bit short. Now, I’m not an jerk, so I’m not going to spoil a single damned thing about a movie that is still over a month away from going in front of cameras, but I will say this: this script freaked me the f out as I was reading it. It’s got a solid, original hook to it that’s structured to reveal increasingly creepy goodies that I guarantee will make people squirm no matter what the rating is (Jason Blum is in the game of making PG-13 horror, so we should probably expect that). To top it all off, Hawke is perfect casting for the lead. Trust me when I say that this is a movie horror fans should keep in the back of their mind. If the film is anything like the script, it’ll sneak up on you.
The Horror Reviews:
Speaking of Jason Blum and PG-13 horror, James Wan’s Insidious hit Blu-ray and DVD earlier this week, which gave me the opportunity to revisit it. I hadn’t seen it since a press screening right before the film had its US premiere at SXSW earlier this year, so I was curious to see if I liked the film more a second time. The first time I was driven crazy by how obnoxiously loud its sound design was and how positively uninspired its cinematography was.
Well, I’m convinced there was something wrong with the presentation at that press screening, because neither of those problems bothered me at home, and I’m the kind of film geek who is so picky about his home theater set up that all the speakers have to be calibrated by an analog sound meter. I realize that technical things like that aren’t exactly the first thing that should come to mind when talking about a horror movie, but in theaters the sound was so loud that it gave the movie this annoying, exaggerated tone. At home, however, it came across as perfectly balanced and creepy as hell. Plus, the cinematography didn’t have that super flat, overtly digital look it did on the big screen.
With those annoying technical problems out of the way, I was really able to appreciate the film more. I think its first hour is perfectly eerie, though my admiration for it does wane once Wan’s writing buddy Leigh Whannell enters the picture. That’s not a slight on Whannell as an actor, it’s just that when his paranormal investigator character shows up, Insidious has moved on from being a haunted house flick to a slightly aloof horror comedy. It still works, it just loses some of its edge right when it needs it the most. All the same, I was pleasantly surprised to realize how well it held up and how effective the jolts were a second time around.
The only other horror movie of note I’ve watched of late is David Keating’s Wake Wood, which is about a couple who move to a small town in the UK following the death of their child, only to learn that the town folk are keeping a dark secret: if the right rituals are followed, the recently dead can be brought back to life for three days to allow their loved ones some closure. It’s got an intriguing, occasionally unsettling premise, but it waffles back and forth between silly and serious and, unfortunately, in the end it ends up teetering too far away from the serious side of things.
Part of that blame falls on the low budget production, which has an awfully inconsistent atmosphere to it, though a chunk of that burden falls onto the shoulders of Aidan Gillen, who plays the mourning father. Gillen is perfectly cast on HBO’s The Wire (as Carcetti) and Game of Thrones (as Littlefinger), but the reason that’s the case is because Gillen has this constant smirk that makes it look like he’s always up to something sneaky. That works if you’re a sleazy politician, not so much if you’re supposed to be a devastated father.
The Horror Horizon:
Unfortunately we’re in the middle of the usual Summer horror drought. August will break some studio releases, but until then it’s all about independent and international films. And to that end, I sincerely tip my hat to Bloody Disgusting and their partnership with AMC to release horror movies that would otherwise only end up on the fest circuit before hitting home video. This Friday they release a movie I am a big, big fan of: the Argentinian import Phase 7.
Despite what the trailer makes it out to be (in fact, I’d just recommend you not even watch the trailer), Phase 7 is not strictly a horror movie. Sure, it’s about the tenants of an apartment building being quarantined during a deadly viral epidemic, but this isn’t [REC]. Phase 7 is more along the lines of a dark comedy that’s, in a way, satirizing the standard apocalyptic formula. I had a total blast with it earlier this year at SXSW (I even hosted the Q&A for it), and I heartily recommend it for a darkly charming dissection of this genre niche. Even if you never get on board with its characters, you’ll get your money’s worth out of its score alone, which is one of the best John Carpenter tributes around.