There are a lot of reasons why we watch movies. Sometimes we want to laugh out loud, cry our eyes out, have our hearts skip a beat when true love conquers all or watch Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate in “Surviving Christmas” … wait, no, we don’t want to do that. EVER! Sometimes we even want to be scared. And sometimes, still, we want gore … lots of gore.
We want to see the head of actress Olga Karlatos being pulled slowly and inexorably through a hole in the wall, having her eye impaled on a foot long sliver of wood in extreme close-up, Johnny Depp being sucked into a bed and spewed out in a slow-motion torrent of chunky gore, a poker though the eye, a machete through the jugular, a spear through two bodies at once or a jerk boyfriend being folded in half like an omelet. And while there’s always room for a good helping of grue (and Jello), Halloween is, without a doubt, the perfect time to satiate the gorehound lurking in all of us and entertain the notion that the Bogeyman might actually be waiting to steal us away from our slumber.
Problem is, ever since Tobe Hooper’s 1986 sequel to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” ironically killed the genre he helped create with Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter in the 1960s and ’70s, American Horror has remained relatively stagnant, leaving writers and directors to feed off the ideas of others with typically predictable results. Even surprises like “Scream,” which integrated old ideas in new and interesting ways, ultimately devolved into derivative sequels (“Scream 3″ being the worst) and a slew of copycat films made by executives only trying to capitalize on the newest trend.
But there’s hope. Thanks largely to imaginative foreign filmmakers, and the ever growing DVD market, horror fans tired of watching the classics (“Halloween,” “The Exorcist,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Night of the Living Dead,” “Psycho” and “Friday the Thirteenth,” etc.) have a wealth of new movies guaranteed to quench their bloodlust or scare themselves silly.
Before he made “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, New Zealander Peter Jackson was busy making films like “Dead Alive,” quite possibly the goriest romantic comedy ever made, and “The Frighteners,” an underrated horror/action/comedy starring Michael J. Fox, and featuring a brilliant Jeffrey Combs (in a roll that should have earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy).
Of course, just because something is gory, does not mean it is scary. But if you want the perfect combination of tension and the bright, red stuff, you need look no further than “Haute Tension,” Alexandre Aja’s brilliant French slasher that earns every one of its scares and practically demands multiple viewings. Unfortunately, the only place to rent it is 4 Star Video Heaven, and to make matters worse, the DVD is region-specific and cut by roughly 90 seconds. So, those of you who don’t own a region free DVD player are SOL until spring 2005, when Lions Gate Films releases it, uncut and NC-17, into American theaters. If you want something guaranteed to make your skin crawl, check out French filmmaker Marina De Van’s fascinating and frustrating portrayal of self-mutilation, “In My Skin.”
While the British “28 Days Later” and “Shaun of the Dead” both earned a theatrical run here in the States, Neill Marshall’s “Dog Soldiers” was relegated to a direct-to-video release. Pity, because the fast-paced, “Aliens” inspired werewolf film features plenty of action and a great cast.
If you’re a fan of Japanese horror, don’t waste your time going to see “The Grudge,” a remake that even fails to achieve the mediocrity of its originals. Shugo Fujii’s “Living Hell,” affectionately called the Japanese Chainsaw Massacre, is far more inventive. Sure, Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s “2LDK,” is basically a 70-minute girl-fight, but its over the top, exaggerated violence is ridiculously entertaining. If a David Lynch movie and a David Cronenberg movie had a Japanese movie baby, it would no doubt look a lot like “Uzumaki,” Huguchinsky’s effectively creepy tale of a town possessed by spirals. Based on the popular manga by Junji Ito, the film features creative and imaginative cinematography by Gen Kobayashi.
Two direct-to-video, domestically produced films are also worth a look. Stuart Gordon’s “King of the Ants,” features George Wendt in a role far scarier than his “Whose Line is it Anyway” guest spots. Though the film doesn’t fall neatly within the horror genre, this gritty, gory revenge flick offers viewers the surreal sensation of watching Norm Peterson repeatedly hit a man in the head with a golf club. Most surprisingly, Robert Parigi’s debut “Love Object” is a restrained, well written, and intensely creepy film about a tech writer (Desmond Harrington), so obsessed with a coworker that he orders a $10,000 sex doll tailor-made in her likeness.
Of course, if you want something truly scary, you’ll have to go out and rent “A Cinderella Story,” with Hilary Duff. Either that, or simply spend the weekend watching Fox News.