Saturday, 14 February 2015

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Dir. Patrick Lussier

A remake of the classic 1981 slasher of the same name, My Bloody Valentine actually improves upon the original with a decent script, likeable cast (including Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith and Tom Atkins) and buckets of atmospheric tension. While released well after the post-Scream slasher boom of the late nineties/early noughties, but in the midst of a (still on-going) classic horror remake phase, My Bloody Valentine attempted to set itself apart by filming in 3D - it arguably initiated the current trend of 3D films.

While it boasts irresistible retro-slasher leanings, it doesn't do so in a smug, post-ironic manner; it takes itself seriously and at its core is a decent mystery regarding the killer’s identity. Various red herrings are successfully established and Todd Farmer’s screenplay is mindful enough to examine the effect of the ensuing paranoia and mistrust on the residents of the small town community, vulnerable and isolated as it is. A number of scenes feature graphic violence but only after a satisfying build up of tension. Lussier has evidently applied his skills as an editor (he frequently edits films for Wes Craven) to his direction, as My Bloody Valentine has a number of highly suspenseful chase scenes. Like the original, it makes great use of its claustrophobic mine setting and also renders the work-places and homes of the townspeople unsafe spaces - a particularly effective scene plays out in the local supermarket after dark as two characters are menaced in the aisles by the brutal killer. A number of other set-pieces stand out, including the massacre at the sleazy motel and the scene in which Tom (Ackles) finds himself trapped in a storage cage as the killer closes in.

Like last year’s post-modern sequel to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, My Bloody Valentine takes time to examine the effect of tragedy upon the small town in which the bloody story unfolds. With the reports of the mining accident and the initial murder spree that stemmed from it (depicted during the opening credits) and the threat of the mine shutting down with the return to the town of its deceased owner’s son Tom, the screenplay touches on the plight of communities which rely on coal mining as their main economy. Interestingly, 2009 (the year the film was released) saw a massive fall in the production and exportation of coal in the US. Farmer’s screenplay depicts the dangerous conditions faced by coal miners on a daily basis and how working in such potentially volatile conditions can effect their health and mental well-being. Don't you just love slashers with social commentary? The strange sadness often inherent in small towns is also evoked, countered by a strong sense of place and community, and certain characters ruminate on past regrets (such as never having lived anywhere else), while Tom struggles to regain the trust of his community after leaving the town years prior in the midst of tragic circumstances. The result of this means we actually care for the characters, which works to up the tension when they come under threat. The varying dynamics between the characters portrayed by Ackles, King and Smith are particularly engrossing. Their shared history, which is of course complex, really works to flesh them out.

My Bloody Valentine is one of the better horror remakes of recent times, though for some reason it is always unjustly overlooked. With its small town setting, formidable antagonist, careful characterisation and frequently creepy atmosphere, it’s an effective update of the classic slasher film formula.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Dir. George Mihalka

Slasher films typically feature a cast of teenaged characters cavorting in an isolated location and falling victim to a (usually) masked psychopath brandishing various sharp implements. The teens are systematically picked off until only one (usually) female character is left. She’s nearly always someone who abstains from indulging in drugs, alcohol and pre-marital sex - unlike her peers - and must use her resourcefulness to defeat the killer. Highly conservative in their morality, slashers feature a sex equals death formula, with killers avenging past misdeeds committed against them or someone close to them, and sating their bloodlust by offing copulating couples. For hardened horror fans such as myself, they offer a strange sense of comfort due to their familiar structure and conventions, which rarely change from title to title. Of course, it’s always great when a slasher deviates from the rigid formula, but as long as there’s tension, atmosphere and a suitably menacing antagonist, one usually knows what to expect.

Not all slasher films feature horny, drunken, pot-tokin' teens however. Some also feature horny, drunken, pot-tokin' adults, too. My Bloody Valentine is one such slasher - and also one of the better slashers released in the early eighties after the success of Halloween. It features a cast of hard-working, hard-partying small town miners and their girlfriends who fall victim to a psychotic killer decked out in full mining garb. After a Valentine’s Day party, the revellers decide to take their girlfriends on a tour of the mines, unaware of the imposing figure who skulks after them. Combining tension, spooky atmospherics and fair-enough attempts to flesh out paper thin characters, My Bloody Valentine is classic, good-ole fashioned slasher goodness, with a lot of heart. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Once the surprisingly detailed back-story has been established and the main characters introduced, John Beaird’s screenplay briefly explores their dynamics, singling out several red-herrings, and effectively establishes the small town setting. Tension builds slowly but surely and the scenes that take place in the mines are unsettlingly claustrophobic. A particularly unnerving chase scene culminates in the locker rooms of the mining facility, with an unfortunate victim terrorised as mining overalls and gas masks drop from the ceiling around her before she’s eventually cornered and killed by the pick-axe wielding brute. Even more disturbing are the scenes in which the killer is glimpsed stalking around the quiet town at night...

My Bloody Valentine was heavily edited upon release - Paramount were still reeling from the critical backlash of Friday the 13th and insisted that the violence be toned down. The myriad cuts result in slightly uneven pacing, and strip the film of many of its gruesome delights. A recent special edition release has reinstated these cuts, ensuring My Bloody Valentine’s status as a classic 80s slasher remains intact. While it isn’t particularly original in terms of its plot or execution, it has withstood the test of time and emerged as one of the stronger slasher flicks of this time, thanks mainly to its creepy atmosphere, taut suspense and terrifying killer.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Happy Friday the 13th!

Stay out of those woods... "We ain't gonna stand for any weirdness out here!"

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Haunted World of Rob Zombie: Part III

"I'd always want to decorate my bedroom. I needed visuals and to be stimulated by things. I'm still like that. It's the way I see the world." Rob Zombie

The Haunted World of Rob Zombie: Part II

"I don't know that I have a fascination with witches per se - well, maybe I just have a fascination with everything that's weird." Rob Zombie

The Haunted World of Rob Zombie: Part I

"She's a killer! She's a thriller! Spookshow Baby!" Rob Zombie

Monday, 9 February 2015

Beware the Autumn People...

"They sift the human storm for souls..."
Having just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s creepy carnival-based Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was incredibly struck by his vivid, immensely atmospheric prose; particularly the following passage, which proved to be one of the most evocative of the whole novel. It appears late in the story, as Charles Halloway is talking to his young son Will about the duel nature of mankind. He is attempting to explain the existence of evil in the world, and warn his son about the kind of people who have completely succumbed to their darkest desires; so much so they’ve been utterly consumed by them. He recalls an old religious tract written by Pastor Newgate Phillips in which these individuals are referred to as 'Autumn People'...

“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In guts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles - breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”

The Guest

Dir. Adam Wingard

Following on from You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest is the latest genre-melding offering from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. As with their previous collaborations, it fondly harks back to genre movies of yesteryear while slyly subverting tropes and conventions audiences are now all too familiar with. All bets are off as rules are bent, expectations toyed with, and the viewer is sucked into Barrett’s twisted and twisting story, which emerges as one of the most interesting - and entertaining - genre offerings of recent years.

The Guest begins as David (Dan Stevens), a recently discharged soldier, arrives at the home of a family still grieving for the death of their son, whom he claims to have been good friends with. David is too good to be true and represents something for everyone in the family, filling the role of their absent son. Only daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is wary, but she fails to find anything to support her suspicious that he isn’t who he claims to be. Until it’s too late…

The Guest treads many fine lines and at several points threatens to dissolve into ridiculousness, but thanks to Wingard’s assured direction, Barrett’s lean, mean, darkly humorous script and pitch-perfect performances from the cast, it just about manages to stay on the right side and keep everything together; particularly towards the end, when some major gear changes occur. As the titular character, Dan Stevens is nothing short of mesmerising. From the moment he appears onscreen he effortlessly commands attention, and throughout the course of the tightly wound story he goes from being utterly charming to violently menacing in a single, fluttering heartbeat; his subtly nuanced performance and Barrett’s riveting screenplay taunt and tease with regards to his character’s mysterious agenda. At times it seems the story will take a ‘Cuckoo-in-the-nest’ turn, a la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Stepfather and Pacific Heights etc., in which a psychotic stranger infiltrates and gradually picks apart a typical all-American family from within their own home, while the queasily tense opening scene hints at a home invasion narrative. The Guest isn’t that predictable though, and eventually takes a few very unexpected turns, ultimately revealing itself to be an irresistible blend of Halloween and The Terminator, with elements of The Bourne Identity and The Manchurian Candidate thrown into the mix.

A throbbing 80s-electro score pulsates throughout, not only providing the film with a strangely vintage feel, but enhancing the tension and calling to mind the similar-in-tone work of John Carpenter. Speaking of John Carpenter, there are various visual references to the Halloween series (particularly parts III and IV) throughout the production design.