Monday, October 29, 2007

day 2: four days with three scary movies each

Scream (1996)

Scream may have done a lot of things -- resurrected the slasher film, Wes Craven's directing career, and Drew Barrymore's acting career -- but it also signaled a kind of hallmark for the horror genre: a horror movie that makes fun of itself while still being a horror movie. This meta play would have seemed too elevated for the genre at one time, but it works here to great effect. Not only does it use tired slasher film tropes (while gleefully acknowledging them) but it also uses a not-so-scary Halloween costume as the killer's disguise. (This is perhaps the greatest sleight of hand to the movie trilogy's creepiness.... the fact that this costume can be found everywhere and is so diluted among the droves of Halloween costumes makes the fact that there could be a real killer among them a terrorizing aspect that satisfies.) Scream also welcomed the entrance of the cell phone as a plot device.... no movie before managed to hinge so much on the use of telephone, and from the very first scene the phone is perhaps the greatest weapon. The fact that the mobility of the cell phone adds to the killer's menace is, my guess, a subconscious stroke of genius. Scream (and its two sequels, Scream 3 being perhaps my favorite of the lot) earns itself a spot in film history with its bending of rules.... and is still a joy to watch (with the lights off) eleven years after the fact and after countless other horror movies tried aping what Scream already apes best.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

I'm not so much a fan of zombie movies (maybe they disturb me too much, maybe I find zombies to be sort of boring villains on the whole).... but I think First Contact is the first (quality) film to take zombies into space, and so the Borg just might be the best of the zombies. Sure, I'm a Trekkie (yes, I've been to a Star Trek convention, more than one even), but First Contact succeeds on its own; it carries its own weight, transcends the dorky stigma, and is probably the most accessible of all of the Star Trek films. The fact that this film relies on a backstory shown first during the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series and makes the leap to film to be the most successful of the Star Trek movies goes to show that the franchise (at the time) was at its zenith. The Borg got a feature-film makeover here, going from the pale-skinned junkyard-part extras on TV to the KY-glossed bug-eyed half-mechanized extras for the big screen (Oscar-nominated for best makeup.... but lost to The Nutty Professor.... why?!). The makeup effects are so convincing and terrifying that I still don't like to watch this movie in the dark. The Borg even get a queen for their hive, played deliciously menacing (and sexy? who would've thought?) by South African actress Alice Krige. There are a lot of things right with this movie (the charismatic acting chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Alfre Woodard, for instance, is magical), but I think the greatest achievement is to show us that Star Trek can tackle horror, and does so by presenting a terrifying and hopeless end to each of us and our culture in the form of bionic zombies. Social statement? Maybe. Quality filmmaking? Absolutely.

Hannibal (2001)

This is a movie I will defend to the end, and I think gets a bad rap simply because it isn't The Silence of the Lambs. Serving as its sequel, though, I think everyone wants it to be the same psychological thriller.... but the story of Hannibal isn't, and its probably hard to accept that it doesn't fall into the same genre as its predecessor. Hard too to see Julianne Moore (stunning here) filling the shoes of a noticeably absent Jodie Foster, who turned down continuing the role of FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling because she found the film too lurid. My argument here is that this wouldn't be the same movie if it wasn't so lurid.... that's part of the fun. This is, ultimately, a horror movie... a horror love story even. Directed by Ridley Scott (beautifully) and written by David Mamet (!), we pick up ten years later with a more hardened Starling and a more playful Hannibal Lecter, with more tricks up his sleeve now that he's assimilated himself back into the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, Anthony Hopkins is my favorite actor. Some people complain that he overstays his welcome as Lecter in this film, and I say every frame he's on screen is a pleasure (with thanks, of course, to some crackling pitch-perfect lines by Mamet). There's so much bizarre humor in his performance that it makes Lecter's horrific murders that much more disturbing. The creepy factor in this movie comes, ultimately, to some unflinching gross-out scenes.... and some fearlessly despicable characters played by Gary Oldman, the counterpoint villain hidden under some nasty facial-scar makeup (who meets his end with his face in the jaws of a hungry boar), and tough-guy Ray Liotta, who logs a memorable performance as a sleazy government cronie who has probably the most disturbing last meal to be shown on film (after he asks what's for dinner, Lecter says, "You should never ask... It spoils the surprise"). A lesser director could have made this film fall flat on its face, but Scott has you buying it line for line.... and I'm in for each course of the meal.

....more scary movies tomorrow....


Dale said...

I loved Scream for the reasons you give, don't remember much about the Trek movie except Alice Krige and hated Hannibal quite a bit and felt it a bit too lurid myself. I liked Julianne Moore but Ray Liotta, nuh uh.

When on a tour in Florence, the guide was talking a little bit about areas Hannibal had filmed in and disparaged it by saying 'the best part of Hannibal was of course, Florence'. I tended to agree.

is that so wrong? said...

It's funny, every time I watch Hannibal I think they get the atmosphere of Florence just right.... and it makes me reminiscent for the time I roamed the city for a day myself when I visited Europe back at the end of high school.