DEAD SNOW and the Incessant Rehashing of Horror Concepts

For once the term "Army of the Undead" is actually accurate.  And brilliantly gory and fun.

The title of this piece may sound like I'm ragging on DEAD SNOW, the Norwegian Nazi-Zombie flick I just watched last night, but I'm totally not. In fact, the film's pretty amazing. What I am ragging on, however, is how it seems like the really original stuff, even if rehashing previous content, is being produced in other countries while Hollywood continues on its mission to remake literally every movie ever made - bigger and "better", as the saying goes.

I'm all for remakes, particularly in the horror genre, which has cannibalized itself all to hell ever since its formal inception with the classic Universal monster flicks of the 1930s and 40s. The current trend of remaking slashers doesn't even bother me, really, because I feel like they're at least as valid entries into series that have often made it into the double digits as the last six or seven films were. I may be the only person to stand up for HALLOWEEN II and proclaim it as the fresh air it was in a stagnant genre, but dammit, someone has to. Rob Zombie's underrated film was poorly received by a bunch of people who didn't want anything different than what they expected of the genre, or what they had seen before. Don't believe me? Read the user reviews on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and see what the number one gripe is from the "fans" of the genre. It's rife with accusations of desecrating the sacred original film, etc, etc, or being a poor handling of the character, or whatever else they want to dream up about what the movie wasn't, instead of looking at what the movie was. So, there you have it, case made in my mind for the validity of remakes and recycling concepts.

The most recycled monster as of late has definitely been the zombie - the ubiquitous slow-moving (but for some reason amped up and faster in their modern incarnations) look in the mirror for middle America. They're a favorite of the B-level flicks and the direct-to-DVD market, but for some reason they also handle a great big chunk of mainstream success. So much so that the upcoming remake of George Romero's brilliant film THE CRAZIES has been retrofitted to be more like a modern zombie movie. Don't take my word for it. Check out the trailers for original and the remake. Frankly, as a fan of the genre, and the zombie sub-genre, this is getting a bit tiring, regardless of how badly I would like a remake of THE CRAZIES starring Timothy Olyphant to be fantastic.

Last night I watched a zombie movie from Norway called DEAD SNOW, and it was amazingly inventive. It took the one part of the Romero flicks that no one has really touched - intelligence in the living dead - and worked it into a really entertaining gorefest that has a lot of fun with itself and the various ways the knowledge of movies plays into its identity, not only on the part of character self-awareness, but also its unabashed use of serious iconography from previous entries in the sublime horror-comedy category. On top of that, though, it manages to successfully combine two of our favorite monsters into one amazing combo: Nazis and zombies. That's right, Nazi zombies. And it works, though I wanted a bit more background or exposition on the big bads themselves. This is bliss, and it shows that even recycled and rehashed concepts can reinvigorate horror films and make them into something new and exciting for even the most jaded fan.

So, I hope Hollywood takes its cue from the foreign producers of genre fare. The most thrilling films of the past few years have been mostly foreign, and mostly French (FRONTIER(S), the supremely disturbing INSIDE, or THEM). I'm looking forward to the remakes in our future, particularly THE CRAZIES and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but I fear that at best they'll be decent enough, and at worst they'll continue the tradition of crap that was already happening in their respective series/sub-genres. Here's hoping for the best.


Antici---pation: Upcoming Movies to Be Excited About

I used to do a regular feature on here where I'd highlight a few of the films coming out that I was personally anticipating very, very much.  I've decided to try again to bring you this column, and hope that the YouTube vids I put on here hold out a bit longer.  I know, I should just download and post them myself, but whatever.  Embedding is easier and I'm lazy.  Today, some (somewhat) historically-based movies that I think should be a blast, or that I hope are in any case.

Writer/Director Neil Marshall's (THE DESCENT) follow-up to DOOMSDAY tells a fictionalized account of the struggle between the Roman Empire's Ninth Legion and the ancient Picts in Britain, circa 117 AD.  This looks pretty hot.  I am a fan of Marshall's stuff, and I'm finally stoked to see a historical action film that doesn't feature (at least not from the trailer) a ton of slo-mo and 300 cribbing.  The cast is stellar: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, and Olga Kurylenko.  If the battle showcased in the trailer, where the legion is ambushed, is anything like the historical Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, it will be amazing.  I choose this over Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD any day.

This may end up sucking, but I highly doubt it, even with my reservations about Sam Worthington as an actor.  It's not like you have to be at all intellectually viable when you're playing the hero of a Greek sword-and-sorcery epic.  Director Louis Leterrier at least knows how to make a mindlessly fun action flick (see the first TRANSPORTER and 2008's underrated INCREDIBLE HULK for proof).  I won't be seeing this in the newly announced 3D iteration because it was done in post-production and will likely be more engaging in non-3D anyway.  And that Cthulu/Deep Ones/Dagon-like Kraken design is amazingly immense and breathtaking.

Legendary pulp author Robert E. Howard's Puritan hero finally gets a film that may or may not be good, but I'm all about some vengeance-obsessed bloodletting.  This trailer is fun, and it's got to be better than that Kull movie with Kevin Sorbo years ago.  Anyway, between this and JONAH HEX, I can't decide which vaguely historical comic book/revenge movie I want to see more.  HEX has the pedigree in place, but KANE has a great legacy of its own, especially if they stay true to the character as originally envisioned, and is anything like the recent comic book of the same name that pretty much kicks serious ass.


A Glaring Omission: BLACK BOOK

Dear god, how did I forget this movie?  Carice van Houten's performance alone
justifies its inclusion on any list, not matter what the subject.

I must have spent a month whittling down to fifty favorites over the past decade, and it was a lot of work.  I've seen a lot, and a fair amount was pretty damned good.  You go back and look at everything that was left out, and you'll know what I mean.  I simply didn't have room, nor does anyone.  How anyone in their right minds ever came up with a list of ten that wasn't an aggregate list makes no sense to me.  However, I did notice something while going over the list again with some friends (I don't generally re-read my own posts ad nauseum), and that was the exclusion of BLACK BOOK.  This is completely detrimental to my whole list and actually points out the futility of such an exercise.

Paul Verhoeven is easily one of my favorite filmmakers.  With the exception of HOLLOW MAN, I'm a fan for one reason or another of all of his stuff.  Pulpy, erotic and oh so violent much of it is.  His 2006 Jewish spy in Nazi-occupied Holland film BLACK BOOK is no exception.  It has all the hallmarks of vintage Verhoeven - camp, sex, black humor, and violence - and is a remarkable achievement by any measure.  And then there's the star of it all: Carice van Houten.  Oh my god what a knock it out of the ballpark performance.  What a commitment and embodiment of everything a good Verhoeven leading lady should be.  She's all the wickedness of TOTAL RECALL and BASIC INSTINCT era Sharon Stone mixed with the unabashed willingness to go for it of SHOWGIRLS' Gina Gershon, and she's classically beautiful, too, blonde or her natural brunette.  Seriously, how many mainstream actresses, foreign or domestic, would be in a movie that showed them dying their pubic hair to fool Nazi officers and both give a fantastic performance and it be a fantastic movie?  Not many, I tell you.

Anyway, I just wanted to clear all that up.  This one should have been in the top 25, but for some reason it wasn't.  Damned lists.


Usually, I watch a whole lot of films, and it makes a column where I play "catch up" very necessary.  Recently, however, I've been catching up on television I've been missing (LOST and DEXTER, mainly), so I haven't had the need to post a "Blurbs" update.  But, recently, I've seen and completed a few things you should know about, and I want to write about.  So, here it is, more Blurbs:

This is an oddity: an adult horror film that plays like a Victorian drama, and features an abundant amount of realistic gore and practical creature effects by legend Rick Baker -which draws directly from the amazing Jack Pierce's original design for Lon Chaney, Jr (and which is amazing).  The transformations are on a level not seen since Baker's work in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, merging CGI and practical effects pretty well.  On top of all that, it features Benecio del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving in a film about murder and werewolves which is tonally all over the place and beautifully photographed.  I liked it.  There's gore aplenty, and I liked the creakiness of the film, emphasizing mood and atmosphere over the first half of the film before unleashing the beast after a rather terrific and much-too-short asylum sequence, which I for one would have gladly watched for another twenty minutes or so, especially if given more background story on the wild boy in India.  You'll know what I mean if you see it.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have a good werewolf movie again, one that can easily stand up to GINGER SNAPS and THE HOWLING, and which features actual werewolves and not teenagers without shirts.  This one's a hit, but I don't think it'll be financially successful.  Unfortunately, this isn't what mainstream audiences want - not even mainstream horror ones.

LOST, seasons 1 and 2
I'm a late-comer to this show, probably due to my insane drive to simply watch entire storylines at once (it's why I generally spend more money on trade paperbacks of comic books than the individual issues, which is neither here nor there), but so far I've really enjoyed it, though sometimes it's too contradictory for its own good - I definitely see this "expansiveness" becoming annoying in another season or so.  Anyway, I'm down with what Abrams created initially, and it's keeping me interested and guessing, and it's actually got a pretty good ensemble, though I must admit I'm no fan of Matthew Fox, and must further admit he doesn't do that poorly here.  If there's a highlight, it's definitely the lighthearted stuff with Hurley, especially since he's totally a Xander/Zeppo-type character and is usually on the fringe (and Xander's my favorite side character EVER).  I love the fact that he sets up a golf course, and it's openly acknowledged how ridiculous it is by the characters, and I love that there's a whole episode devoted to the possibility that all of this is just made up by his insane brain - and that they don't say it's not.  That's ballsy.  Anyway, if you watch this show, you probably think it's pretty great, too.  We'll see how the rest of this holds up.

This probably deserves a much deeper analysis, but really I don't know what I'd say about it.  The Coens have really done themselves proud their last few films, and this is definitely the oddest in a filmography that contains gems of goofy WTF-ness such as RAISING ARIZONA, BARTON FINK, and BURN AFTER READING.  In any case, what we have here is an interpretation of the Book of Job thematically, with Larry Gopnick (a fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg) having just about everything bad that can happen to him, well, happen.  This movie isn't for people without a serious dark streak of humor, mostly because if you can't laugh, it becomes terribly depressing after the first five minutes or so with the Gopnick family.  And, it has one of the most bizarre cold opens I've ever seen, taking us back quite some time to an Old-World Jewish family and their encounter with a (possible) dybuk - a type of demon or manifestation of evil.  The ending is just as magnificent and dark and beautiful and, and, and...  I guess I really did love this film.  One last thing about it that's truly great: you won't recognize anyone except for Richard Kind, and most people don't even know him by name.



The benefit that the American-ized update of the 1985 BBC miniseries EDGE OF DARKNESS has going for it is its ability to find a momentum and sustain it.  In my humble and purely personal opinion, I found the original to be a bit creaky, though engaging and entertaining.  Sometimes there is just too much space between significant events in a mystery/drama like this when expanded into six hour-long episodes.  In any case, here it is, and it's actually pretty good.  I'm a fan of Mel Gibson's, particularly as an actor, and I'm glad to see him back on-screen and not attempting to look like he's still in his 30's.  He brings a certain level of well-aged cynicism that really drives this material forward.

EDGE OF DARKNESS is adapted and scripted by William Monahan, and like his other big screenplay, THE DEPARTED, is set in Boston, though this time out everything's much more corporate conspiracy-laden and not quite so gritty.  Still, what the film offers up is another morally complex piece of work where it's difficult to tell where the blurry line between "right" and "wrong" starts to fade completely.  It's not an original concept, especially for what is essentially a film about a cop, but it does this particularly well, balancing Thomas Craven the vengeful family man with Thomas Craven the officer out for justice.

Gibson plays Craven, whose daughter's murder is believed early on in the film to be an accident related to an ex-con's vendetta, but which turns into something much darker and more sinister than a simple revenge fantasy could ever be.  As is appropriate in these types of films, the badass detective goes on his own investigation to figure out what really happened, and comes up with real answers.  And while in this day and age it's a bit inconceivable that a giant corporation would actually be held accountable for their actions, it's nonetheless satisfying to see that scenario play out, and then be handled effectively by Craven himself.  Who's accountable now, punks?

The film is directed by Martin Campbell, who was also involved in the original, as well as 2006's CASINO ROYALE, which launched him into semi-superstar director status.  He's well-known and fairly highly regarded in film circles in the very least.  His involvement here shows a sure hand, unafraid of revisiting themes and variations he's been exploring for over twenty years in a different milieu and culture.  He shoots the film's slower scenes appropriately flat, giving out precious expositional information in a similar method to THE WIRE, where nothing is really repeated and you must pay attention to what's said, but when the action revs up, it's not over-the-top slam-bang stuff; mostly it's ridiculously realistic, even when Gibson shoots the driver of a car sent to run him down and then shoots out a tire to make the car swerve and miss him.  Yes, I realize I use the term realistic loosely in this case, but how many big 'action' movies do you see where someone actually has to shoot a tire out to cause the car to swerve?  Realism and ridiculous are good bed-partners anyway.

All in all, I really enjoyed this.  It's appropriately dark and depressing, beginning and ending in tragedy, but Gibson really shines.  For me, he saves the film on more than one occasion just by delivering his dialogue in that way that I can only imagine him saying it.  While not a great film, EDGE OF DARKNESS is more than serviceable as a thriller, and it really is a lot of fun, and features a great supporting cast that I won't spoil for you by saying too much about them apart from what you've undoubtedly seen in the trailers.