The horror, thriller, crime and supernatural genres all sport an enormous collection of films, many of which I haven’t seen. Out of those I have, there are certain types that serve certain roles. The best in each role I’ve outlined below. Condemned Movies’ favored horror pictures of the modern era:
These actually kept me up at night:
The Blair Witch Project
When I went to see this in theater, the terror it struck in my psyche didn’t quite manifest while I was in the dark theater with about 300 other kids my age on a Friday night. The gasps and tremors effected only a smile on my face, no terror, knowing that I’m in a brigade of generation y kids who will face any specter or demon that would thrust itself out of the screen. Once my friends and I made our way back home after the movie, it became quite another story. One of them suggested we immediately go camping, because in no simpler terms I think he’s a fucktard. Of course, we all considered it, and started gathering camping supplies, but after taking one look into the bush, filled with a massive grizzly bear and wolf population, that was visible just beyond my neighbor’s backyard, we reconsidered for “practical” reasons, obscuring the surreal reasoning: how exactly were we to know the Blair Witch wouldn’t leave little straw trinkets outside our campground? The first person shaky cam revolution may not have begun here, but it hit its fever pitch here, proliferating a dizzying and tired style that seems inappropriate when not being chased by redneck phantasms.
I went into this movie expecting some scares, and yet I was also expecting a pedestrian thriller with creepy crawlers. I left this movie with a trace amount of post-traumatic stress. I stared at the dashboard in my Cadillac for 10 minutes, baking in the sun, trying to process what just happened in that dark, unpopulated theater. The only other time I left a movie swearing that fighting in combat wasn’t worth it for any reason was after the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan. The harsh doling of mortality quickly made the cruelties of the universe well present in The Descent, I remember seeing three ladies walk, nay, dash out of this film as soon as the roller coaster began. There are few movies that can match the claustrophobic panic of this one.
Call me a sacrilegious oaf, but I enjoyed the American version far more. The DVD came with a tongue-firmly-in-cheek feature that connected you directly with the narrative ploy featured in the film, conveniently titled “Don’t Watch This”, which held the prospect of the girl crawling out of your very own television, much like those in the film. I didn’t click it. I’m not an adventurous spirit by heart, I enjoy staying home and watching Squidbillies when all the excitement is going down. But for the love of Christ I will never, ever, click “Don’t Watch This”.
Night of the Living Dead
Every boy worth his salt is schooled in every possible scenario and “what if” of the eternally perplexing question: what would you do in the, albeit rare, case of the eventual Zombie invasion? … steal an AK-47 and a box full of motrin IB then dash to Isle Royale. The zombie movie (and vampire movie) prior to Romero’s classic was easily dismissed as an archaic romp not necessarily worth one’s time. Mummies and Frankenstein. Such does not sate the mind’s curious search for meaning through the portal of mortification. “What if”, expanded radically with racist and sexist themes in this landmark film, would continue with a critique of the consumer culture in the sequel “Dawn of the Dead”. This film is indeed “patient zero” for most horror films made today.
Lucifer is an extremely popular villain, and anti-hero (since Milton’s Paradise Lost), but his progeny is a pop culture villain of recent vintage. The Satanic cult was a fresh invention in the time of Rosemary’s Baby, and some cruel arithmetic in the universe had it that Roman Polanski would feel the sting of the inferno quickly after making this film. Mia Farrow gave up a role in The Detective to star in this timeless creeper, despite the admonition of her recent beau Frank Sinatra, resulting in her divorce. Such trivia only serve to make such painful flux hovering around this picture all the more attention-grabbing, with other cultish rumors and general inexplicables floating around. The film itself and the narrative were shocking for their time, and inspired countless other pale shadows. Polanski’s fetish for the devilish noir would not end here.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Ick. Just ick. Texas is ick. Leatherface is ick. Inbred southerners are ick. Meathooks are ick. Chainsaws are ick. Every … single … thing …. about this film is ick. TCM inspired countless other horror films that came after, with the sheer terror, the obscured character of the primary villain, and the gruesomeness that separated all that followed from the candyass slapstick murder that preceded. Are we worse off because filmmakers decided that realism counts for something more than atmosphere? Well, we’ve always had people like this, maybe TCM just woke us up to their presence.
The new gothic atmosphere:
I’ve told this story before: while watching this movie in theater in the ‘70s, my mother and her friend jumped out of their seats in the infamous chestburster scene and immediately went out for pizza, never considering watching another second for another ten years, once I watched it all the way through myself at an inappropriately young age. Though we might not really understand it today, with the over-commercialization of a niche monster movie series, the original Alien scared the bejeesus out of people. Before this, they hadn’t much dark sci-fi to go on. They probably expected Wookies monging about like Yogi Bear on meth. The effervescent psychosexual tension between a 7-foot tall penis monster and the female object(s) of its murderous desire make this one disgusting cornucopia of Freudian frustration splattered on screen. And to think, they made children’s toys out of this within the decade.
Let the Right One In
I’m of the opinion that this film cheats in exporting a cultural norm with Scandinavian decorum. Like Italians exporting food or Brazilians exporting music, this borderline turkey gets away with a few oohs and aahs abroad despite its failings. If you’ve ever been to Luleå, or sifted through the metal section of a record store (what are those?), you know just how god damn dreary, moody and laconic the Scandinavian joie de vivre is. In any case, they pulled off an interesting enough marker of the vampire tale, Viking-style. Unfortunately, we’re deprived of the rich bile-churning disgust that the novel presents, which is Lolita meets Bram Stoker. Profits dictate that will have to wait until we’re truly a degenerate society.
The Ninth Gate
You probably won’t like this movie. You won’t get it. You won’t want to get it. You may even be discriminatory because of the fact that Polanski is directing it. If you’re a real putz, you probably don’t care much for the narrative. Most likely, you just feel jilted by the ending. No worries, folks. This film is entirely worth it solely for the Ayn Randesque characters and the uncompromisingly rich cinematography. I always hear how people want to watch movies so they can travel to Europe. If you want to see the Europe that everyone else sees outside of tourist season, this is it. But even better, if you want to see a Europe that takes The Third Man and shoves him up Satan’s asshole, sows him in, and cuts him out of the horse innards in a Bahomet ritual … Polanski did it for you. The puzzling symbols and clues are left scattered throughout the film, only serving our intellect like a French butler, while the British cook boils us up a hot bowl of funny red mushrooms to digest in the final scene.
The filmmakers (Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani) deliver the goods in this homage to giallo slashers of the ‘70s. Included are some haunted house and psychosexual dreamscape luciferean romances, as we plod through a film virtually bereft of dialogue, something that deeply pleases anybody sick to death of pathetic attempts at dialog by genre writers unfit to write book reports on A Confederacy of Dunces. The vibrant colors are a given, with their objective in mind. The insanely beautiful framing and detailed shots are painful to sit through because of their presence in a mere stabby mcvagina movie. Nevertheless, what more praise can I give this film than it raises all the wrong passions in me, just like it aspires to do.
A highly amusing byproduct of this film is the Scary Movie series, in two respects. For one, at least the very first Scary Movie served as a hilarious send-up of Scream and similar late 90’s slasher revivals. But furthermore, the redundancy of Scary Movie is made clear in how they’re parodying a pastiche. Scream was a fine enough self-reference on the slasher pic, it didn’t necessarily need a Budweiser commercial spoof. Wes Craven is at home with horror/thrillers, and this might as well be his magnum opus in that regard. In otherwise underwhelming careers, the cast here works out splendidly for their archetypal roles. Finding people who haven’t seen this movie is a pure delight, because its relation to middle class suburban American households, enjoying a film on a dark Friday night, works out to keep you on the edge of your seat, regardless of how many shotguns you have on your gun rack.
Shaun of the Dead
The Zombie film has largely met all of its creative cult-de-sacs by the time ‘Shaun’ came out. It had tried out goofy camp, darker and more evil re-makes, and even a complacent return to pre-Matheson Zombies that sleepwalked through the kitchen for orange juice. A triple-punch of 28 Days Later, the Dawn remake, and Shaun of the Dead returned to life in a revenant dance the latest generation of Zombie fanatics, whose fantasies are spilled out into Left 4 Dead, comic books and the ever intriguing “what if” scenarios. Shaun held itself above the others by being conscious of the Zombie clichés and having fun with them, but it also struck new territory because it explored the adventures of the 21st century inept beta male.
Evil Dead II
The sequel is pretty much a direct re-make of the first Evil Dead, but it’s the difference between a Rolex and a water-proof Nickelodeon Spongebob watch. Even better, Raimi and Campbell developed a more sardonic sense of humor for the sequel that made it less of a taxing experience and a richer leaping-off-point for the cheese-o-rama adventure film that completed the trilogy. Like the “Night of the Demons” series, Evil Dead gives us the conflated monster of lazy thinking: the Zemon. Part Demon, part Zombie, 100% Ty Cobb swinging dick monster truck-driving cornswogglin’ evil undead. Bruce Campbell might not be the second coming of Peter Sellers, but he serves his purpose in Evil Dead II, and makes the movie an enjoyable watch.
The creative, check that, destructive mind behind this story should, in any safe society, be locked away with the other lunatics who urinate in public and eat glass. That man would be Clive Barker, and I think anybody who watches Hellraiser will be feeling the tortured imagination swirling in a black cloud of hate in his mind for some time. Pinhead using flying meathooks to tear random people to shreds just because they played with some rubix cube has to be the most arbitrary demonry imaginable. The other causations just make me want to puke. I won’t give them away. Just terrific.
Night of the Demons
I discovered this one in a backwards way after seeing the sequel on subscription cable at 3AM, which galvanized my black leather-wearing rebellious years. A decade and a half later, I’m looking back in morbid disgust at the laziness abound in that sequel, but I’ve really gained an appreciation for the more raw and visceral original. I should have been clued in when I noticed the sequel sparing absolutely no expense by lifting entire scenes from the original. Like I mentioned about Evil Dead II, this movie has the venerable Zemon monster foe (part Demon, part Zombie). Once bitten, twice converted, six hundred and sixty six times lathered with makeup in the matter of seconds. The camp is existent here in an unassuming ‘80s kind of way, but if there were such a thing, this is a candidate for supernatural realism in its matter-of-fact presentation of just the facts. The comedy doesn’t pacify the creepiness of this gem.
The philosopher’s skullfuck:
There’s no getting around the fact that this movie has some of the most visually powerful scenes in recent cinematic history. That only bears the sledge hammer’s weight heavier upon your nutsack. Von Trier pulled a few public stunts to preface the reception of this film, coloring the overactive imagination of cultural theorists to anticipate misogyny and other Freudian ‘issues’. In a word, he’s a prick. Don’t shy away from exploring it, the tantalizing meaning behind each and every “wtf” experienced in this movie is worth prodding. With our powerful relationships thus deconstructed, how far are we all from the state of nature? Clubbing bitches upside the head for procreation … thinking like bears in our murderous neglect of children that leads to heightened sexuality in the mother … forcing a controlling hold over the mentality of one’s lover to manipulate their emotions to our benefit. Von Trier is, in effect, the opposite of Dr. Phil vis a vis healing the marriage crisis.
Before committing to his various kills, Dario Argento planned out each scene with the meticulous design used by the obsessive compulsives who figure prominently in his features. Some of the deaths have their own foreshadowing, ringing a poetic note in tune with an empty-souled organ player. The murderer is given a circumspect and drawn-out appreciative camera for each death. The camera builds a world that can only be soaked in on slow motion. David Hemmings continues into another noir picture with another Italian luminary, and throws into the thriller genre to consummate the frustrated implications leftover from Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Argento taps into some pretty deeply-rooted cords wrapped around our psyche in Deep Red, making us feel disjointed and tipping over the edge of a cliff with surreal imagery and attempts to make us feel calm and safe. Hitchcock on LSD, as it were.
Michael Haneke must have woken up one day and said to himself: “Michael, today we’re going to write a screenplay where a couple of sick sunsabitches terrorize the audience by first breaking the fourth wall, and then directing the narrative”. I don’t like this movie on a personal level. It’s fucked up. It plays cinematic games while the characters play sadistic ones. Some viewers propbably can’t tell which ones affected them more. I haven’t seen this movie in a good 8 or 9 years, and I think that’s too fresh in my memory. Even the final category below doesn’t compare to the story in Funny Games, because of its quintessential attitude, where Haneke treats it as an elaborate terrorist beheading that takes a giant shit all over structural narrative assumptions we’ve been subjected to in other thrillers. The re-make is supposedly a shot-for-shot deal. I’m not watching that one either.
God is not a loving god:
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Low budget. Gruesome pathology. Stendhal meets Hannibal Lecter. There’s just all kinds of shit wrong with taking a realistic take on a prolific and … a recent at the time, let’s not forget that … a recent serial killer. Michael Rooker had a field day with this career-maligning role that he might’ve felt was just worth it. This is disturbing to watch in how cheap the production is, and how unromantic and gritty the act of murder becomes. Re-living it within the mise-en-abyme prism of the characters watching a massacre over in VHS is just too hard to bear. Fire and forget is the key here. I’m not watching this shit again. And it’s not even that bad compared to the two below.
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
The source material for Pasolini’s choral ode to murderous sexual humiliation was, surprise of all surprises, the Marquis de Sade. De Sade wrote 120 Days of Sodom as a reaction to the Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, who assumed a natural grace in reason and human progress. De Sade held the aristocratic assumption that humans were limited in their rational faculties, but he took it a step further than anybody else would ever conceive through the next century and a half: he posed our limitations as a gross middle finger shoved right into our faces. Napoleon, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mao – what unites them? They had a common assumption that they utilized human reason to devise a grand new strategy for living and being in their respective polities. They were all wrong. Their end results uniformly matched exactly what you watch in Pasolini’s 120 Days of Sodom. Eating buckets of shit. An aristocratic insolence towards the dignity of the common people. The use of the common people as objects of pleasure and mortification for the whimsy of dignitaries. The Italian fascists aren’t the only ones given a nod here, but everyone who is so converted to a material culture that their grasp of pain and pleasure is alienated enough to permit them an unfeeling hold over inter-personal relations to any degree where Orwellian language covers up mass suffering.
A Serbian Film
I hate people. I officially hate people. If I can specifically target Serbs for my hatred, I would. I know how complicit they are in a psychopathic national attitude in regards to what they did in Bosnia and Kosovo. I would just love to have it so simple as to single Serbs out as a bunch of monsters, but of course, and depressingly, I know better. The filmmakers of this disgustathon wanted it to be a testament to the political culture that emanates from the Milosevic ultranationalist state that emerged in the post-Tito Civil War era. Everything depicted here, other than coincidental incest, was very likely a casual if not endorsed action during the Civil War. I’m sorry, I know some of you might think it only ironically feeds into the cycle, but all of that only makes me feel even better about having bombed them. This is a nation that took offense to a harmless joke by Chelsea Handler and issued hundreds of death threats to her. I’m sorry, I can’t resist saying it: Serbs, ya’ll are fuckin’ clownin’.