Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pet Sematary 2

When I was 11 and an avid Stephen King fan, I was dying to see Pet Sematary 2 in the theater. My parents wouldn't take me, and I clearly remember thinking that I couldn't wait til I grew up and could watch all the horror movies I wanted to. Somehow, I managed to miss out on watching this for the next 15 years. I'm sure I would have liked this movie when it came out, judging from how many times I watched another early 90s Edward Furlong horror vehicle in my preteen years, but on this viewing it came off more as black comedy that anything that could have been possibly conceived as a serious horror movie.

The bare-bones DVD release contains absolutely no special features, save the trailer. The script is atrocious and the acting just as bad, with wooden readings of lines that one would think would be ridden with emotion, like "Gus, what's going on here? Why did you dig up my wife from the grave?"

When Jeff Matthews' actress mom gets electrocuted on set before his very eyes, his veterinarian father moves him across the country to their summer home in Ludlow, Maine, home of the Pet Sematary. The perpetually-smirking preteen Furlong is apparently contracted to only play roles where he is required to wear a cut-off sleeved denim jacket over a flannel shirt. He befriends a chubby kid named Drew, whose sadistic stepfather shoots his dog, leading the boys to bury him in the Pet Sematary. Predictably, the dog comes back in red-eyed, CGI form and rips Gus's throat out.

Inexplicably, instead of being happy that he is rid of his stepfather, blame-free, Drew resurrects Gus so he can come back, climb in bed with Drew's mom (played by whoever played that homewrecker Hallie Lowenthal on My So-Called Life) with a giant hole in his neck, and have creepy zombie-sex with her. So then Jeff decides to bring back his mom, the caretaker of the real cemetary lets Gus dig her up for some reason, and she comes back and tries to kill everyone.

That's really all that happens, save some minor character deaths along the way. The events of the first movie are reduced to a campfire legend in which sole survivor Ellie Creed goes nuts and slaughters her grandparents. The soundtrack is wildly inappropriate and filled with early 90s relics (L7, anyone?) Pretty much everything that happens is completely unbelievable, even for a movie about a haunted Indian burial ground, which actually makes for a pretty entertaining movie. There are also some legitimately disturbing moments, mostly involving animals in peril. At one point, Gus espouses one of my long-held childhood beliefs: that cats are girls and dogs are boys.

It is hard to believe that the filmmakers didn't know how hilarious this movie was, with lines like (after a character has his neck ripped open by Zowie): "I hate that dog."

A remake of the original Pet Sematary with George Clooney as Louis Creed has been rumored for years, even though Clooney is now way too old for the part of a young father. The sequel couldn't match the palpable dread of the original (not to mention the novel's explorations of the madness of grief), and it's doubtful that a modern remake would manage to be as necessarily bleak as the 1989 film.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Black Christmas (1974)

My future husband started school a few weeks ago and has a lot of studying to do, which gives me the perfect opportunity to hog up our shared Netflix queue with all the stuff I want to watch and he doesn't. First up was the original, 1974 Black Christmas, which I've been wanting to see since I caught the remake with my friend and usual-horror-movie-watching partner Rob over Christmas vacation last year. It starred Party of Five's Lacey Chabert and Michelle Trachtenberg, who, in my head, I always call Harriet the Spy, as girls you don't care about getting killed by a guy who not only uses eyeballs for tree ornaments, but eats them (prompting an 8-year-old who totally should not have been in our theater to ask his mom if they were having eyeballs for dinner.)

I suspected that the original, often touted as the first real slasher movie and a godfather to Halloween, would far surpass the eyeball movie. And, mostly, it did. The film, about a group of sorority sisters picked off one-by-one by an unseen killer, established the through-the-eyes-of-the-stalker perspective so common in modern horror. Though Black Christmas is extremely dated, what with all the horrible 70s fashions and hairdos, it's also much more vulgar than the relatively bloodless--literally and figuratively--Halloween. Everyone boozes it up, especially the housemother, who says of her charges "These broads would hump the Leaning Tower of Pisa if they could get up there." One of the girls-Barb, played by Margot Kidder-calls her mother a gold-plated whore, notes that "you can't rape a townie," and gives beer to a kid at a community Christmas party. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is dead-set on an abortion, no matter how much her boyfriend tries to talk her out of it.

Whereas the remake has almost no character development, the original is 95 percent character development. That part of the movie is compelling and fun--but when the killer shows up, it's just not scary. I actually dozed off, which, though most of my friends will tell you is a common occurrence with me during movies, it usually doesn't happen at 3 p.m.

Stephen King's The Mist

I have been waiting for this for years--it's only the best Stephen King short story, with possibly one of the top ten best endings of any short story. And the fact that Frank Darabont is directing bodes well in King-adaptation-land.

Friday, September 21, 2007

24 Hour Horrorthon & Related Events

In honor of Halloween this year, Exhumed Films is showing 24 hours of horror movies at Philly's International House on October 27. The caveat? They aren't announcing the titles ahead of time. Though only $20 bucks, anyone who's ever been to an Exhumed show knows its a crapshoot--sometimes you get horror classics, and sometimes you get random ninja movies.

There's also the Eight Films to Die For thing, which, for some reason, is in the second week of Nove when everyone's already burnt out on horror movies. I've been the past two years and have yet to see a good movie. In 2006 it was the laughably bad Reincarnation--apparently talking dolls are a lot scarier in Japan than they are here--and last year it was...I can't even remember what, I think something incomprehensible and maybe Russian, and the Web site is no help.

For the past couple years, my friends and I have our own Horror Movie Night, which involves making a bunch of food and watching very mainstream horror movies that everyone can agree on: year 1, A Nightmare on Elm Street and 28 Days Later; year 2, Carrie and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. And someone always pushes for Ghostbusters, which, obviously, not a horror movie. This year is currently undecided, but my vote is for Candyman, which I saw for the first time at Exhumed last year and was the only movie to scare me since (shut up!) The Ring.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Not from Netflix, but last week I saw the unspeakably awesome The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Video gamers are not typically depicted as leaders in the battle of good versus evil. But in Kong, director Seth Gordon crafts an heroic epic more compelling than six installments of Star Wars and six more Rockys combined. The documentary follows the journey of everyman Steve Weibe, a down-on-his-luck schoolteacher, as he tries to get his world-record-breaking Donkey Kong score verified by Twin Galaxies, the official keeper of such stats.

Twin Galaxies, however, is in bed with Billy Mitchell, holder of the Donkey Kong world record for almost 25 years. Mitchell is first shown as a teenager—mulleted, pimpled, and with a gigantic hickey on his neck—in a 1983 Life magazine spread about arcade game champions. As an adult, Mitchell, a chicken wing sauce mogul, is a weasel with a gang of sycophants who help him ensure that his score is the one that stays in the books and is ultimately printed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

If slimy Billy Mitchell is unabashedly portrayed as the villain in this drama, then Steve Weibe is every bit the hero. After being laid off from his job at Boeing on the same day that he signed his mortgage papers, Weibe takes up playing Kong in his garage while becoming credentialed as a middle school science teacher. Between a montage of interviews from his parents, brother, friends and wife about how Weibe has never been the best of anything, he videotapes his record-breaking score while his toddler son yells “Daddy! Stop playing Donkey Kong! Come wipe my butt!”

Twin Galaxies officials are initially excited by Weibe’s score, until Mitchell complains that it was sent on video and, thus, not admissible. Undaunted, Weibe travels from his home in Redmond, Washington to an arcade in New Hampshire to beat Mitchell’ record live for the judges. He succeeds—until the panel accepts the dodgy, possibly-faked winning tape that Mitchell submits. The rest of the film chronicles Weibe’s quest for justice, amid officials that break into his garage to test his game and familial pressures to quit.

The stranger-than-fiction characters elevate the fairly straightforward story to a raucous, fascinating study of a subculture. The Twin Galaxies judges are uniformly doughy, pale, bad-hair-having men in their 30s who view Mitchell as a legend, and go to unimaginable lengths to make sure that their icon emerges from the controversy unscathed. Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies, writes bizarre folk songs about Mitchell’s gaming accomplishments. Brian Kuh, who broke 16 arcade records in one day in 2006, comes off like a gaming version of The Office’s Dwight Schrute as he calls Mitchell from the competition with play-by-plays of Weibe’s moves. And Doris Self, who delivered Mitchell’s sketchy tape to the judges, was in pursuit of the world record in Q*Bert until she passed away in 2006 at the age of 81.

The heart of the film is the characterization of Mitchell as the scoundrel and Weibe as the heroic everyman, which, though oversimplified, are self-conscious enough to be entertaining. With his slicked-back hair, scary eyebrows, ominous theme music and devious henchman, Mitchell is a dead ringer for Satan; Weibe, on the other hand, comes across as a bumbling but lovable, Forrest Gump-type that you can’t help but root for. Even his wife and mother are candid about the fact that just a regular guy, nothing special about him, with his mother adding that he might even be a little autistic.

Though watching people play video games may sound like a mind-numbing way to spend two hours, Gordon structures the film for maximum suspense, peppering the central conflict with interesting insider info about retro arcade games. Part epic battle, part character study, King of Kong fulfills the mission of any great documentary—making the viewer feel like part of a world with which they would never otherwise come in contact. Unfortunately, the viewers are, at this point, limited, with the film showing in just five theaters nationwide. However, Internet rumor has it that Hollywood is casting a fictionalized version with Johnny Depp as Billy Mitchell for release next year. If that’s the case, I can only hope that such an unnecessary remake drives more people to check out the real thing.