I've suffered a slow down in my writing these past few weeks, especially when it comes to reviews. I've felt burned out by the notion that I haven't been able to watch a genre film in a while without half my mind focused on how I'd review the picture once I could get in front of a keyboard. To be frank it sucked a lot of the joy out of movie watching for me. With that in mind, I took a few days off work in order to revisit some of my favorite non-horror films with no goal in mind except to sink back into the sofa and turn my brain off for two hours at a time.
Of course a number of films I ended up watching had a number of horrific elements in them anyways. While they may not be considered outright horror films (though I'd make a strong case for the first film on this list), they all contain a number of unsettling moments not for the feint of heart. Maybe we'll revisit this concept shortly down the road, but for the time being here you go:
We Need To Talk About Kevin The dividing line on whether this falls in the horror camp seems to be whether the person viewing is a parent or not. For me this film is a two hour punch to the stomach that lays out all my worst fears and misgivings of parenthood. Tilda Swinton gives a powerhouse performance (shame on the academy for overlooking her) as a woman engaged in a test of wills with her offspring from the moment of his birth. For me, the horror of Lynne Ramsey's film (and Lionel Shriver's source novel) stems doesn't stem from the obvious arc of no one listening to Swinton's warnings that her son was a burgeoning psychopath. What the film and novel both nail, and what I found most chilling was the loss of identity that comes from surrendering one's life to a squalling mass of hunger, tears and shit that cannot be reasoned with or often times even mollified despite one's best efforts. While it's easy for me to say now how much I love being a father (the best bits of my day are the ones where I walk in the front door and bathe, roughhouse with, read to and comfort my two year old daughter) the broken nights of sleep and the never ending screeching of an unhappy infant are never too far from my memory. There's a scene early in the film where an exhausted Swinton stands near a construction site just so the sound of pounding jackhammers can drown out the screaming wails coming from within Kevin's stroller. Passersby look on with horror but it was a moment I could empathize with. Kevin also reminds just how much of one's own life they have to sacrifice for someone that will one day slam a door in your face howling “I never asked to be born”. The days of packing a knapsack for an impromptu weekend getaway are long past. Hell, even the simple desire to catch an early evening movie becomes a weeklong exercise in planning and budgeting. It's almost like reliving one's teenage year except this time there's less hormones and more fat around the middle and the curfew is entirely self imposed. All this for a tiny creature that could one day turn every interaction into a test of iron wills and both horrify and frustrate you at every turn. The film acted like a stomach punch by stirring so many memories of the early days of fatherhood where I was convinced that lack of sleep and loss of self would bring about a nervous collapse.
Hannibal There's a large number of critics that will say with a straight face that Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs is a thriller and not a horror film. The only argument they have at their disposal is it won the Best Picture Oscar and horror films simply don't carry that sort of prestige. While I'm clearly in the Horror camp on that particular movie, the decade-later sequel Hannibal veers more towards black comedy than horror or even thriller. Realizing he had a cash cow on his hands, novelist Thomas Harris churned out a never intended sequel to the work that made Anthony Hopkins famous. The white knuckle tension of Lambs made way for a ludicrous plot and lurid, gory tale better suited for Herschel Gordon Lewis than Hollywood's A-list. Upon reading the novel Demme and Jodie Foster passed while Hopkins saddled up for another go round, and the best paycheck of his career. Julianne Moore stepped admirably into the shoes of Agent Starling and Ridley Scott culled some of the sillier aspects of the novel (and changed the ending where Lechter and Starling share Krindler's brains and become lovers). Still, for a blockbuster film Hannibal is a gore lovers dream come true. An unbilled Gary Oldman plays a one-eyed mangled pedophile seeking revenge on Lechter since the doctor had him carve off his own face and feed it to the dogs in a drug induced suggestive state. The film is filled with gore, eviscerations and half ton wild swine trained to chew the faces off men. Of curse, there's the final dinner scene that had audiences puking into their popcorn buckets as well. While it's nowhere near the masterpiece of Demme's film, Scott has a blast bringing a campier aesthic to the series, and the Italian locations in particular look gorgeous.
Death Proof this film, or to put it more accurately this director, inspired the post you're reading. I've had the house to myself for a few days and burned some vacation time in order to clear my head, relax and watch a bunch of movies I love. I ended up on a Tarantino quick, watching all his films in a three night span. It hit me that I'd love to seem him do a straight up horror flick. Tarantino possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of genre films and I'd love to see him bring something to the big screen. While his counterpart in 2007's Grindhouse Planet Terror was a homage to the1970's low budget horror, Tarantino's own film focused more of boss stunts involving muscle cars with badass women spouting the back and forth banter he's made famous. Tarantino claims an early script treatment veered more towards straight ahead slasher film territory and it's easy to see the influence in the final work. Instead of a machete or kitchen knife, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell in his best role in years) uses his souped up “death proof” '71 Nova as his killing tool of choice. The stalking elements of early slasher films are all present, with the Nova skulking in the background early on, giving off vibes of foreboding and unease. While the film has a terrific kill scene at the midway point that's chock full of carnage, the second half eschews the horror elements an gives us a straight up action and stunt extravaganza. Perhaps it's the stink of Robert Rodriguez' inferior entry to Grindhouse that leaves Tarantino's contribution so under appreciated.
Seven It's the film that put David Fincher on the map and gave Brad Pitt the type of role that allowed him to demonstrate he could do more than look good. Steeped in film noir and far ahead of its time when it came to procedural dramas, Seven knocked audiences through the back of their seats with scenes of unrelenting atrocity and a grim, nihlistic ending rare for its day. Everything in Fincher's unnamed city is drenched in grime, rot and decay and it's not until the climactic scene that the viewer escapes the weeklong torrential downpour that beats down on the pavement. Seven works because Fincher only shows the aftershocks of John Doe's reign of terror. Left with the bloated corpse of a man forced to eat himself to death, we're given a brief description of what occurred then left to fill in the terrible details with our own imagination. For sure the Devil lives in those details when you hear chilling nuggets that at one point Doe left the crime scene, and went on a second grocery trip in order to finish the job. These moments stuck with viewers long after the lights went up, serving as a breeding ground for many a nightmare.