Sunday, July 24, 2011

ReMarathon 2011, Part 1

From the opening seconds of Quarantine, you know instantly that they've fucked the dog. Jennifer Carpenter's human interest reporter looks into the camera and says that her name is Angela Vidal. But that's not how she pronounces it. She says it "Vie-Dell," which is how no one pronounces that name in any part of the globe unless they've been hit in the head with a hammer and recently. In the writer-director's attempts to give the film it's own voice, they managed to make one of the dumbest translation mistakes I've heard since Jesus Franco first fell in love with Lina Romay. Remakes, in theory, are a way to tell a story again on the off chance that there was something off about the original. In the case of, say, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the movie was told much like a TV movie; it was uncinematic, slow and largely very boring. It was also wrapped up in an insanely complex niche of Swedish government. You fix those problems by giving it to David Fincher, a director renowned for his beautifully visual storytelling and distinct stylization. In a perfect world, that'd be the only way you remake something. Our world is far from perfect and so we get a remake every six months of something that either didn't need to be remade or could have used a remake but the folks in charge address problems that weren't pervasive in the original, inventing new ones on the way, kinda like giving someone with a broken leg an intubation. One out of every...let's say 21, for no reason at all, will have enough going for it to overlook the fact that it's pissing in a pretty important pool. But largely these movies could have been called anything, which means that they're cash-ins. The Hitcher is pretty much exactly the same movie as its inspiration, except it sucks a grizzly bear's asshole. Prom Night and House of Wax bear strictly nominal resemblances to their counterparts, which means they had nothing but cold calculation and dollar signs on the brain. Why call a movie House of Wax if it's got nothing to do with any previous version of House of Wax? Because a name is something, I guess. And producers assume people will come to see a movie that's already kinda sorta succeeded...if you call being slightly worse than Friday The 13th or not the most embarrassing Stephen King adaptation of the 80s when placed next to The Running Man success. Well, lately curiosity got the better of me and after checking out the totally horrible remake of Friday the 13th, I decided to run the gauntlet, as it were, and check out every one of the slick, new remakes to see if anyone had anything to say. As a hint for what's to come I will say I was totally in the mood for the kind of blunt, sexualized violence these movies promise when I started this experiment. Now that it's over, I want everyone in Hollywood to die a violent, embarrassing death.

The Amityville Horror
by Andrew Douglas
Now, look before I dig in here, I gotta lotta remakes to get through so if I rehash the plots of movies that you've already seen (or should have, if you call yourselves professionals) we'll never get home. The bad news is that the plot is exactly the same as the original, which is why it never goes anywhere. The good news is that Michael Bay didn't yet take hold of every aspect of these Platinum Dunes films just yet. He's writ large over The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that film was enjoyable enough if you shut your brain off. Here, he's made as good a choice as I think it was possible to make in giving the film to Andrew Douglas, the director of Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Just as John Stockwell seemed an odd but ultimately rewarding choice to direct Turistas, Douglas' involvement saved it from what might have been, so that now it's simply forgettable. He's not much in the way of a climax but he fills the movie with enough memorable and beautiful images that I wasn't offended. The story is dumb and it's loaded with cliche, but Douglas' steady camera and love for the natural imagery surrounding the house that Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George buy make this a markedly better film than its predecessor. If only that meant something. As it is, Amityville is so slight it almost doesn't exist. No one's in any real danger because there are no incidental characters and the best parts about it are mostly divorced from the plot. All in all, not a terrible second effort from Platinum Dunes, but they should have quit while they were ahead.

House of Wax
by Jaume Collett-Serra
I guess the plot is required here as it has absolutely nothing to do with the superior Vincent Price film, or that movie's inspiration from the 30s. In this one, a bunch of fucking kids are going to see a football game, but stop arbitrarily in the middle of nowhere to camp. They piss off some locals on their way in, who stop by in the middle of the night to cut one of their fan-belts. Why they don't cut both of them is because the screenwriters are morons, which they've proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by writing Whiteout and The Reaping in the years since this sad little movie. Anyway, two of them go looking for gas and find a town that doesn't appear to have any living relatives. In fact the only guy they find in town is in the middle of a funeral. He says he's got the necessary fan-belt, but that it's at his house and would they please wait for him to finish burying his brother. They agree and decide to hit the Wax Museum first thing. It's suitably creepy and even more so when Collett-Serra lets us know that there's some long-haired creep still working on the figurines in the basement. While retrieving the part, one of the kids is abducted, the other escapes and then their friends show up to help and are all killed and turned into wax people except the lead girl and her brother.

House of Wax has some of the angularity and baroque direction of the superiorly crazy Black Christmas, but isn't quite as insane. It's stacked to the rafters with talent poached from teenage-aimed television, including Jared Padalecki, whose since settled down in this world with his lead turn in Friday the 13th and a surprisingly strong performance from Chad Michael Murray, who just about vanished from sight after this. And then there's the reason this movie gained what little notoriety it did: Paris Hilton as one of the expendable idiots. She's bad but no more so than Camilla Belle in When A Stranger Calls. Her death scene sticks to the old truism about severed heads in horror films: they spent a lot on that head and by christ their gonna get their money's worth. To be fair this is as good as a movie with Paris Hilton could possibly be. It follows roughly the same trajectory as Marcus Nispel's Texas Chainsaw, right down to the lead's boyfriend being operated on as an indication of how screwed everyone is. It's half-goofy tone reminds me more of Tourist Trap than anything Vincent Price did in the 50s. That is, until the gore comes out and all of a sudden this becomes a much grimmer affair then it started. The best parts of the film, other than how well Murray acquits himself playing a redeemable dickbag, are the opening sequence where we meet the killers as children and hints at how much better the film could have been and then the credit sequence, which was maybe the most compelling part of the movie. I have an inordinate love of the song "Helena" by My Chemical Romance, a band I otherwise have no time for. By putting that and then Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades" in sequence, Jaume Collett-Serra manages to make it seem like I didn't just waste an hour and forty-five minutes, even though I know for certain I did.

The Fog
by Rupert Wainwright
John Carpenter has terrible taste in films. As much as I like his best work, I've always known from his seemingly endless string of documentary appearances that he likes shit and hates great movies. Which perhaps explains why he not only allowed The Fog to be remade, but produced the damn thing himself. That doesn't explain why it's the worst thing with his name on it since Ghosts of Mars. Well, maybe handing it to the guy whose credentials include the video for "2 Legit 2 Quit" and fuckin' Stigmata does. Anyway, the story's the same, except it's not scary, and they lose the ensemble aspect which made the original so interesting. And they lose the production design, which, though borrowed from the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, was original enough in the context of American horror that the whole effect was all very pleasing. Here, we get a random collection of set-pieces that add up to nothing with an emphasis on stupid people being stupid and handsome people being handsome. It's all incredibly fucking boring and neutered and should be skipped.

When A Stranger Calls
by Simon West
There's a popular misconception that the original When A Stranger Calls is a horror film. It starts as one but the minute Charles Durning shows up, it's a procedural with an emphasis on suspense. And then you realize the whole thing was more a thriller than a horror film. Simon West is not half as smart or clever as Fred Walton, who also directed the original April Fool's Day, on which more in a moment. Though he's since parted company with Jerry Bruckheimer, the lingering stench of his influence is all over this movie. In fact, his first film, Con Air, is more often than not confused with the work of Michael Bay. Which is fitting because West does the same thing to the house that makes up the setting for most of When A Stranger Calls as Bay did to the house in his Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Except instead of decrepit and grimy, the house here is state-of-the-art and modern. So modern in fact that it's a stage set and never for a second looks like anything else. There's even a scene where the killer jumps through the roof of one of the rooms and you see that it's a set! And he does this ten seconds after he turns the master power to the house on. Last time I checked, the fuse box is never in the attic.

Anyway, there's no Charles Durning in this one, except for a few seconds in the beginning, it's all girl in the house. And I wouldn't mind except the girl is fucking wretched. Camilla Belle sleepwalks through her part, barely able to get up the energy to sound scared. Which, I guess, is appropriate because the guy doing all the calling isn't all that scary. He's just a guy. The whole thing feels engineered and never works to get you to suspend your disbelief. The opening is promising as we see the handiwork of the killer; the cops have to carry her out of her house in several trash bags, but the film fails to deliver on this promise. The only other thing to say is that this movie features the first appearance of Katie Cassidy, who we're going to seeing a lot more of.

The Omen
by John Moore
The only thing I'll say for this movie is that Liev Schreiber does a fine job and that they found perfect counterparts for the original roles in Pete Posthlethwaite, David Thewlis and I love any movie that casts Giovanni Lombardi Radice, but the beats are exactly the same, the effects are exactly the same, the child has a ridiculous haircut and Julia Stiles is no Lee Remick. The only part that seems to wake the film up is a seconds-long medicine cabinet scare, something these movies all traffic in. Barely there by all accounts and not at all worth your time.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
by Jonathan Liebesman

Now, look, I know I brought this one on myself (well, ok, I brought all of these on myself, but nevermind that) but I was still pissed off at this movie. First of all, they set this movie in the late 60s, yeah? How about some fucking commitment. You have, what? Seven characters in the whole film, and you couldn't find period costumes for them? Right out of the fucking gate, one of the girls is wearing a fucking La Perla bra, and she's supposed to be poor! And as if that weren't lazy enough, we're treated to basically the same fucking script and identical production design and cinematography as Marcus Nispel and Michael Bay's first Texas Chainsaw film. The only real difference is that the cast is far less adept at selling the fact that they don't know what cellphones are. Oh and it's grimmer. A lot grimmer. I knew this going into it, it is a prequel after all, but I was still so mad at this movie when it kills off the last character. This is when I knew that these remakes were playing fucking dirty. Not only do you not know anything more about Leatherface than you did in the last eight Texas Chainsaw films, if anything, the issue is muddled even further. You see him being born and then his mother dies and he's adopted by a family of crazies. So, that explains how his insanity was nurtured, but what about his birth mother made him want to cut his nose off as a young boy? Yeah, see what I mean? And I know that the mere fact that this takes place before the events of the previous film and that none of the female characters place a revolver in their vagina means that they won't be around for the next outing, but what kind of sick fuckers make a movie about people who have to be killed with a chainsaw before the film ends. That's not suspense, that's torture. So what kind of sick people turn moviewatching into torture? Why Platinum Dunes, of course. This is the first of the Michael Bay produced remakes that I openly despised and could see the disgraceful, sweaty palm of Bay steering the production from the opening sex scene to the last grubby cheat that this movie calls a climax. There were a lot of things to explore in this movie; who belonged to the face Thomas Hewitt is wearing before he steals Eric Balfour's was nothing I cared about. And it's not enough to hinge a movie on otherwise devoted to killing likable people in the worst possible fashion. Don't watch this movie. Don't play their game, you'll lose every time.

by John Erick Dowdle
The movie they've raped this time is [Rec], a movie that I'd call very near perfect, it's effectiveness as a horror film occasionally standing in the way of any artistic aspiration, which prevents it from being an A+. But as a movie designed to scare you so bad you have nightmares, it's one of the best ever made and is so efficient that you like and believe everybody as who they're supposed to be. Quarantine is a movie run through babelfish. What appears an attempt to be spontaneous is all the more insidious because it's word-for-word the transcript of a brilliant screenplay. The beauty of [Rec] was that you couldn't tell if it was meticulously planned or largely and ingeniously improvised. Here the decision is obvious because aside from a few stupid exceptions (the business with the rats), the script is word-for-word the same. Except...well, let's put it this way: Quarantine is 90 minutes and [Rec] is 75. The spanish film didn't fuck around and moved so quickly that you were constantly terrified and plot developments happened in a second. Here they take their time to make sure that you are made way more aware than you need to be about what's happening. They also deliver exactly the same lines, but take just as long to do so in English as it takes the actors in the first to do so in Spanish and they talk at three times the speed of your average english speaker. So not only are you aware that instead of writing a new script, they just copied down the subtitles, they made sure to have the actors mock the performances from the original, except more shrill and annoying. It's really kind of perverse, like watching a play by Max Fischer. As much as I hate Let Me In on principle, I have a hard time imagining it's more annoying than Quarantine.

John Dowdle is one of the worst directors working today and from his short resume, he and his writer brother Drew have absolutely no moral compass. After their hysterically stupid debut,The Poughkeepsie Tapes, their first project out of the gate was a remake and they've since made a film from an idea by M. Night Shyamalan, Devil, a movie unequaled in its offensively facile and downright childish worldview. And again, I wouldn't hate Quarantine so much if they hadn't copied and pasted [Rec] into I can't quite express to you my contempt for Quarantine, which lumbers along with its dumb caricatures, its soundtrack negating the supposed verite aspect, its cutting when they think no one's paying attention, its generally treating its audience like an abusive boyfriend until it comes to its merciful close. At no point is it believable that the camera being wielded is the kind of camera used for its ostensible purpose or being wielded by anyone but a professional DP. Fuck this movie and fuck everyone involved. You guys screwed up one of the best horror films of all time. A year after it was released. I hope they put that on your tombstone, you fucks. Oh, and they put a bra on the thing in the penthouse, who shouldn't even be there because they changed the cause of the virus. Go fuck yourselves.

Ok, woo...ok, calm...alright...ok, let's just cool off a second. Whew...Ok, I'm good. Join us next time as we continue the saga of the early twenty first century remake!

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