Friday, September 24, 2010

Frostbite


A big part of being a seasoned horror movie freak is the hunt, is it not? Swimming through a sea of mediocrity to occasionally find an island of greatness to bask on for a while. Then setting out again across the Ocean of Disappointments in search of the next one. It seems as one gets older and sees more movies the hunt gets more challenging. One's tastes mature, and then of course there's the small matter of jadedness and desensitisation. For example, I've grown out of enjoying gore for gore's sake, so flicks like the August Underground series bore me senseless these days. Of even less interest to me is the ubiquitous mega-budgeted SFX extravaganza. I get little joy from watching millions of gigabytes of pixels flying dizzyingly across the screen. And then there's the rest... remakes, sequels, prequels, re-imaginings, reboots, adaptations, homages, satires etc etc. There's a lot of "product" around, but not much new under the sun.

Of course the holy grail that we're always looking for is a quality horror film that genuinely brings the fear. One that makes your skin crawl, your eyes widen and your jaw drop. A white knuckle, edge of the seat terror trip.

Things have been pretty thin on the ground for me recently. A Serbian Film was shocking, disgusting and disturbing, but despite being a slick and handsome affair, it felt too contrived to really upset me. I actually liked it a lot, but beneath the veneer of implying some kind of deep sociopolitical message, I think it's really just a finely crafted shock-fest and little else. An engaging and rough ride, but ultimately superficial.

So last week, I sat down alone at 2:00am and watched Adam Green's Frozen. I wasn't that impressed with his previous retro-slasher Hatchet, but when I read the synopsis for Frozen way back when, I was immediately drawn to it's simplistic, real life horror scenario. It's bare bones plot - three skiers, forgotten by resort staff, and left hanging high up on a chairlift as night falls - shares the same premise (and exploits the exact same fears) as 2003's Open Water - that in an everyday routine situation that is taken for granted as being completely safe, a simple oversight can result in unimaginable horror. And the resulting terrors are the same in both movies: the physical and psychological effects of prolonged exposure to the elements... suddenly finding oneself no longer at the top of the food chain... the dread of isolation, and despair of facing one's impending death.


Where Open Water elicited a sense of dread and hopelessness, Frozen ups the ante and executes the premise far more effectively, moving beyond dread to moments of sheer adrenaline pumping terror. As darkness leads to cold (which is worsened by bad weather), and the skiers gradually become more aware of the seriousness of their situation, the tension slowly builds. But it's the fate of one of the characters at about the halfway point that really got under my skin. I was shocked at how profoundly this character's death upset me. The way that the sequence is staged is agonisingly painful to watch. The torture and pain that is explicitly shown is wince-inducingly appalling, but this character's ultimate fate proves once and for all that what is left off camera and up to the viewer's imagination can be far worse. This sequence disturbed me and haunted me for days. And the terrors don't end there... frostbite is a bad thing too.

With Frozen, Adam Green has crafted a taut, fat-free thriller that cleverly uses the banal realism of its premise to create a situation that is far scarier than being chased through the woods by any number of masked killers. This is something that you feel you could easily read about in the news, and it's that plausibility that makes it really terrifying.

And if you've ever been on a chairlift yourself as the sun is setting... the evening cold and gloom descending over the mountains... it's too easy to imagine yourself up there with those three Human Popsicles. I honestly think I'd rather be eaten alive by sharks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Aylmer


A while ago I raved excitedly about the awesome poster at right that features a great illustration of Belial Bradley, brother of Duane, and star of the New York sleaze classic Basket Case. The poster - for an in store appearance by Frank Henenlotter at a cool looking video store in Seattle - was drawn by one Marc Palm. At the time I mused about how I'd like to see Marc tackle Henenlotter's other famous parasitic character, the Aylmer, from the deliriously wonderful Brain Damage.

Shortly after that I thought, fuck it, I'll write to Marc and see if he's up to the challenge. Much to my surprise he responded with the gleeful enthusiasm of a true monster freak, and so it came to pass that I commissioned a work of art from someone I'd never met, living on another continent. After supplying the artist with a decent amount of reference material from Brain Damage, and asking that he take his time with it and have fun... I waited.

This week my patience paid off, with the arrival in my inbox of the charmingly debonair brain-eater himself. It's a fetching portrait of the deadly little parasite, and the attention given to the details of his anatomy is excellent, especially his drug glands and retractable injecting proboscis. Marc showed it to Henenlotter too, who loved it, and you can't really get any higher praise than that. Behold, the Aylmer...



Monstrous thanks to Marc and Frank

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time To Die? Time To KILL!


I have to admit that I never watched the Hobo With A Shotgun trailer, Jason "Treevenge" Eisener's winning entry in that promotional contest for Grindhouse. I do remember seeing a still of the logo and being impressed by how authentic it looked, more so than the faux trailers in the actual film.

When it was announced this year that Rutger Hauer had been cast as the titular bum in a feature-length version, my interest was piqued. I'm a big
Blade Runner fan, and despite the fact that I think Hauer's post '80s career never lived up to the potential displayed in his earlier films (particularly his frequent collaborations with Verhoeven), I still take an interest every time I hear his name mentioned. That's a lot more than I can say for Harrison Ford, who I stopped giving a shit about a long time ago.

Now, with the release of the
Hobo trailer my passing interest has turned into keen anticipation. I love the look and feel of the trailer, from Hauer's earnest monologue to the tough looking practical grue FX. The thing that really grabbed me though, is the cinematography and lurid colour palette, which immediately made me think of James Muro and David Sperling's gorgeous work on Street Trash. The Hobo trailer also seems to echo that film's awesome production design - a sort of larger than life urban environment that is simultaneously grimy and fantastically unreal. I hope the film is as aesthetically pleasing as this trailer teases:



So, despite the total financial failure of
Grindhouse, this revival of the "style" (however artificial and contrived it may be) seems, if anything, to be gaining momentum. On the one hand, we've got "big" movies like Piranha and Machete chewing and hacking their way into fans' (and critics') hearts and cult notoriety. On the other, we're seeing a resurgence of genuine low budget sleaze and gore fests like Hobo, Bio-Slime (where have you gone?) and Slime City Massacre. Not to mention the unstoppable tsunami of weird fetishistic gore pouring out of the fertile talent pool of Yoshihiro Nishimura & Noboru Iguchi et al in Japan. Hell, we've even got Henenlotter back (another one soon, please Frank).

May this cinematic sleaze-disease spread, fester and flourish!