Summer Solstice 2002






Book Reviews

Movie Reviews


Letters to the Editor





Editorial by Marc Calavera

Last month, I said in my editorial that a lot of today's horror movies are garbage. Okay, let's not put too fine a point on it; I referred to them as "crap." The text of that article can be found below. I stand by my statement. One of our readers took exception to that however, and sent in the following article.

So rather than pen my own editorial this quarter, I defer to Jeremy with one further remark: Enjoy this issue! We've got a lot of cool work this time! Take some time to flip through our pages. We're assured by our staff that it isn't "crap."

And I reserve the right of surrebuttal, Jeremy!


Rebuttal by Jeremy Gwinn

Hollywood Horror Crap Re-evaluated:
Are We Asking Too Much?

(Spoiler warning: If you haven't seen the movies Jeremy discusses, be aware that in some cases he gives away the ending. --M.W.)

Upon reading the editorial 'Is Hollywood Horror Crap?,' I was slightly put off. Not to say that it wasn't an intelligent, insightful and well-thought out argument, but it was quite overly critical.

First of all, what exactly does the author mean by "today's horror movies?" Is that the movies of two thousand, the nineties, the eighties, the seventies? Does the author wish to return to the days of Bela Lugosi donning the slicked back hair and atrocious accent or the monsters like the Creature From the Black Lagoon with the zippers showing? What makes a good scary movie?

It's quite simple: a good scary movie is one that just gets us in a certain way - that somehow gets under our skin.

Horror movies do not necessarily need to induce a coronary or reinvent the wheel or offer some quasi-religious epiphany to be good do they? This seems to be what we have come to expect out of entertainment today. We come from a cynical generation with rather jaded appetites. Actors can't just deliver lines convincingly, they must actually become nothing less than the living incarnation of the part they play and dazzle us with standing ovation performances. Special effects can't just be eye-catching or look simply genuine, they have to leave us gaping with amazement. Stories can't just be good, they have to be literary epochs worthy of legend. In our jaded "seen it all before/been there, done that" attitudes, we tend to fail to appreciate these stories for what they are and what they do for us. In the introduction for the anthology 'Prime Evil,' Douglas Winter wrote that "fear is fun." I quote from the same intro.,"We don't really care if effects-oriented films like Poltergeist or The Evil Dead or Aliens have flimsy plots - after all, nightmares rarely follow a coherent storyline. The images alone work a special magic: the hideous faces popping into view, the sudden grasping hands, the buckets of stage blood, are all props in a high-tech carnival. We love to see something so grotesque and so unexpected that it makes us scream or laugh..." and I tend to agree. Not only are such movies meant to be fun, but a catharsis of sorts. As morbid as it sounds, let's face it - how many times have you watched a horror movie with a certain character that you truly loathe bite the dust and you want to stand up and cheer? Did that character remind you of someone you encounter in your day-to-day life? Go on and admit it. These kinds of movies, in a way help vent our homicidal urges without actually doing something we'd regret (of course, that could just be me - no one ever accused me of being completely sane). So even the most low budget, poorly-acted films with flimsy plots offer some value (of course, I think there could be a few exceptions to this rule including I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legends 2, Final Cut among others). And one more thing about horror movies - they help us put a face to our fears. The old saying goes, "the devil you don't know is always worse than the devil you do." I think this saying has much merit here. This is another contribution these films make. They put faces and names to our fears for us.

In any case, back to the "getting under your skin" part. Movies need not be deep to get to us on certain levels. Take Jaws for example. I mean, it's no Poe or Lovecraftian masterpiece but it gets us because it hits us in an area in which we are vulnerable. We know there are predators in the ocean and shark attacks do happen. So isn't it an unnerving thought that you're at the beach with your family or your girl, enjoying the warm summer sun and riding the waves, when all of a sudden, something brushes by your leg... then the bite. The beach, once a place of sunshine, celebration, fun and life is now one shark's favorite resturaunt. I wonder how many people postponed their trips to the beach the year that movie came out. Those dreadful slasher flicks of the eighties work on a similar level. Despite the classic equation, teens + sex = death that seems to drive those movies, they also get us where we are vulnerable. They are the fictional counterparts of the Zodiac and the Lover's Lane Killer of Texarcana that strike us in the midst of intimacy, figuratively and literally, catching us "with our pants down." Anyone who has ever been unexpectedly interrupted in the middle of sexual activity could empathize. Post WW II movies like The Thing or the Blob or Invasion of the Body Snatchers played upon our fears at the time of the outsider, who threatened our country's way of life (whether he was communist, a vegetable from outer space or a gelatinous mass, it was the same thing). With the invention of the atom bomb, also post WW II, there were concerns about radiation and mutation - expressed in films like Them. In the nineties, Final Destination (and Marc, you can't possibly honestly tell me that this movie didn't get to even you) is the modern incarnation of Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Here we discover our mortality - we become aware of just how delicate life is and how close to us death really is which, is a vulnerable spot for any human being. Comically enough, after my girlfriend and I saw this at the theatre, she had to take a plane back home. Needless to say, she was a nervous wreck. Films like Carrie as well as I Was a Teenage Werewolf prey upon that angst we feel at a time in our life when our bodies are changing and we're feeling different emotions that make us feel like outcasts. In the seventies (my favorite decade of movies), we had some of the most dark and disturbing horror movies of all time, usually dealing with Satanic themes - The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, The Sentinel, The Legacy, The Evil Dead, and relatively unknown but excellent, The Changeling (one the best ghost stories I ever saw). After the tragedy of the Manson murders, evil and the supernatural seemed to be particularly touchy subjects and the silver screen abounded with stories of demonic possession, cults, and human sacrifice (remember Texas Chainsaw Massacre?). How about the way that the aliens of the Alien movies get inside you? One of those tentacled things attaches itself to your face and shoves its fetus down your throat only to bust out of your chest later? Although it isn't exactly what we would call "taking the high road" with horror, it works because it gets us level in which we're very vulnerable like the urban legends of the spider nest in the hair or the squid eggs hatching in the boy's stomach - foreign invaders in our bodies - very gross. On a side note to that, speaking of Ridley Scott movies, my hat off to him and Thomas Harris for making even me turn my head in the theatre watching Hannibal when Hopkins was feeding Liotta his own brain - that was way over the top. I can see why Jodie Foster was squeamish about and ultimately declined taking the part in that one. In any case, what makes a good horror movie is that it gets to us in some way, not that it is a modern masterpiece of filmmaking.

With all that said, let me now turn my attention the Blair Witch Project. Public opinion of this movie affirms most of all what I previously said about our jaded appetites. I cannot argue that the camera vertigo may induce motion sickness or that the plot was lacking or that it wasn't a little bit influenced by the whole reality tv fad, but I can argue that it was unjustly judged by some. First off, many of us were probably disappointed because we are so accustomed to those easy-to-look-at twenty different camera angles, digital animation/special effects, million dollar actors, and neatly scripted, smoothly-flowing directing (and maybe that we didn't get to see the monster). However, by being fixated on those things, we fail to see the genious of the film. It wasn't supposed to be an intricate plot with talented actors. It wasn't supposed to revolutionize filmmaking. It just is what it is. From a marketing angle, it was beyond brilliant. The filmakers didn't just go for the reality tv angle, they basically created their own mythology. By setting up a realistic website and other similar promotional stunts, and making the film soley with camcorders by non actors and setting the story in the real town of Burkittesville and labeling it a documentary, they had millions of people wondering if it were actually true. That, in my opinion, is the first step towards successfully scaring people. When someone realizes that something isn't real, he isn't afraid of it. However, when something is believed to be real and the audience can identify with the characters more, the more frightening it is. The film makers went far beyond reality tv. What made the actors in the movie so convincing was that they weren't really acting that much. They really were out in the woods, cold, tired, dirty, and hungry for days and their lines only delivered to them at the times to say them with them really not knowing what the hell was coming next. Extras on the set interviewed about the Blair Witch were left to ad lib their lines. Talk about being convincing. So even if you weren't scared by the movie, you at least have to respect it's originality.

In summary Marc, I believe you've fallen victim to one of the oldest cliches imaginable - "well, they just don't make 'em like they used to." I'll agree that the Haunting wasn't really scary, but I don't even need to see the original to know that it can't have been that much worse and Shirley Jackson probably had the best version of all. There are plenty of movies worthy of merit this day and age if you just stop looking for something completely original. Which reminds me, in regard to The Others, it was a great movie but Marc, they didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, ok? The O'Henry type twist "I didn't realize I was dead," theme really isn't anything you can't find in some ghost stories and an eighties episode of The Twilight Zone. As the old saying goes, "There is nothing new under the sun." As for recent Hollywood horror "crap," how about this list of movies (some I know you've seen before but check them out anyway):

Sleepy Hollow (I think Burton did a superb job of casting and atmosphere)

Stigmata (not just Arquette going possession psychotic, but a deep theological debate)

Stir of Echoes (far surpasses Matheson's original story in my opinion, and such a shame played second chair to 6th Sense)

End of Days (can't say much for Arnold as an actor, but who could complain about Gabriel Byrne as Satan?)

Bless the Child (you honestly can't tell me this wasn't creepy - not to mention wonderfully reminiscent of those 70's cult flicks)

BW 2 Book of Shadows (ok, this time you've got your special effects plus some interesting questions about the nature of myth and reality and a drunken orgy and cool soundtrack to boot - I love this movie)

Event Horizon (maybe I just like the movie so much for the name but it's extremely creepy too, like a futuristic outer space Shining)

Alien IV, Resurrection (I just loved what a badass Sigourney was here, interesting themes of humanity posed by Whedon)

St. Francisville Experiment (blatant ripoff of BWP... but hey, it was actually kind of convincing and spooky in a way)

Chasing Sleep (much different role for Jeff Daniels than Dumb and Dumber, creepy psychological "what the hell?" thriller)

Bruiser (another winner for Romero, brilliant and insightful theme, you'll really root for the killer)

Hannibal (Ridley Scott, Anthony Hopkins, Thomas Harris...what else really needs to be said?)

Valentine (I know this one probably confirms your feelings, but it is a little fond nostalgia for 80's slasher flicks)

Jacob's Ladder (a little old I know, but if this one doesn't unnerve you, then nothing will. check out dvd alternate ending)

Hollow Man (best invisible man movie in decades to deal with the psychological aspects of not being able to see yourself, plus cool title, stellar special effects, and Kevin Bacon going psycho is hard to miss)

Lost Souls (straight out of the 70's satanic cult theme, totally creepy atmosphere, lighting, effects, great acting by Chaplin and pasty anorexic waif Ryder add to the creepiness, very good plot - you should like - and not so happy ending)

Pitch Black (another cool title, alien vampires, Vin Diesel as serial killer who can see in the dark - loved those eyes - intense)

Jeepers Creepers (I was a little disappointed, but it was still creepy. I like the idea of monsters existing without rhyme or reason)

Final Destination (I think I stated the most important aspects of this movie earlier, try to let it not get to you)

The Addiction (Christopher Walken and Lili Taylor, this is definitely an original take on vampirism, you really need to watch this if you haven't already - trust me. very creepy and thought-provoking).

What Lies Beneath (Harrison Ford as the bad guy in a creepy ghost story? how can you tell me Hollywood puts out crap?)

Ok, I could probably add more to this list, but I think that's sufficient for now. Anyway, there is my case for "hollywood horror crap," which, I believe, is in the eye of the beholder.

Until next time,

Jeremy Gwinn


Original Editorial by Marc Calavera

I want to talk about horror movies today. Horror movies have been enjoying a resurgence at the box office for whatever reason, and we've all been flocking to see them. But I wonder if we're doing the right thing.

Most of today's horror movies are crap, don't you think?

Let me take a few of the more widely talked about movies and show you what I mean.

We started in the nineties recovering from all the slasher movies. Sort of. At least the slasher flicks became more self-aware, like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I didn't care for these, except for some of the silly characters. They were just more hip versions of Jason and Michael trying to decimate the population of America for no real reason other than the fact that teens can be annoying.

Can't we all?

The next really new thing was the Blair Witch Project. Everyone said it was scary, there was a HUGE buzz and even that fake thing on the Sci-Fi Channel (which had my nephew absolutely convinced that the whole thing was for real). So we went, and we came home--or at least I did--and said, "That's it? I shelled out six-and-a-half bucks for that?"

Drew Carey called it the Blair Boring Witch Project, and I can't say I disagree. The film wasn't particularly good, wasn't particularly well-plotted, wasn't even particularly scary. The story wobbled with the camera and was completely unbalanced. The bouncing "reality TV"-inspired angles gave my girlfriend motion sickness and on her way out of the theatre towards the bathroom, she said "Let me know if I miss anything."

She didn't.

What it was was different. That's what Hollywood needs today: different. It was a good start. Unfortunately, what Hollywood did next was take a step back.

When I heard they were going to remake The Haunting, I was both excited and disgusted. Excited because the original Haunting is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. All the creepy takes place off camera and lets you imagine the whole thing. I slept with a light on the first time I saw it. I thought, so now, with what we can do today, it has so much more scary potential, it will be great.

I was disgusted because Hollywood had, of course, already been there, done that. I should have known, because they actually made it less scary than the original. Not only that, but they made it trendy by playing the abused children card. Sure the effects were great, but hell, the only scary scene in the whole thing was [SPOILER WARNING!] Owen Wilson losing his head.

These are just two of the films that illustrate the whole trend of scary films, and I had pretty much resigned myself to more of the same, until The Sixth Sense and The Others came along. The Sixth Sense, while not entirely original and fresh, had a new take on the "I see dead people" theme (managing to be both hip and fresh), and two excellent, if underappreciated, actors to pull it off.

And The Others. The Others brought back my faith in Hollywood moviemaking, thank God. The Others was what I hoped the revamped Haunting would be. All of the scary stuff off camera, creeping me out with the actors' reactions. It was different, with the new take on the haunted house story, it was interesting, a real I-forgot-about-the-popcorn flick. And it had a twist ending that worked--something you don't see very often anymore.

And who expected Nicole Kidman to act that well? Not I. I saw her in To Die For.

So perhaps Hollywood can still produce a few good horror flicks.

At the very least, they're not making any more Know What You Did Last Summer flicks.

I hope.


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