Wednesday, November 19, 2008

something inside me has died...

Well, not really, but something inside me is definitely hibernating and pushing the rest of me towards doing the same. I'm getting some stuff done, but the sudden (welcome) onset of winter weather plus, I dunno, other stuff, equals sleepytime more than writing time, or whatever. Did I just say sleepytime? My mind is going, totally going.

Anyway, I wanted to continue somewhat along the lines of my last entry, talking about recent horror films, or at least one recent horror film. "Reeker" and "Drive Thru" both occupy the same strata of horror filmmaking, being modestly but reasonably budgeted (in the millions, for sure), featuring fairly well-known performers, if not outright stars, but recognizable faces. And they both have had fair distribution and press, not playing theatrically, but still getting wide video releases. "Reeker" has played on cable (I think both the sci-fi channel and Showtime) and if "Drive Thru" hasn't, I wouldn't be surprised if it did eventually. And both of these films are of about the same quality, as previously discussed, nothing earth shattering, but thoroughly entertaining, better-than-average, kinda funny, not trying to be anything they aren't, but not exactly generic. These are b-movies, not just in the sense that they are b-movies, but also in the sense that if I were grading them, I'd give them a "b".

That's one level of the horror hierarchy. It's not necessarily a place where you usually find good films, but as "Reeker" and "Drive Thru" show, there's some decent stuff to be found there, probably much more so than more mainstream films that get a theatrical release, not as much so as those a notch above, the festival favorites with a bit more arthouse credibility, like "Ginger Snaps" or "May," or the recent "Let the Right One In," which I haven't seen yet but have heard good things about. Go a step below, though, and you're really wading in the muck of low-budget horror. I certainly don't want to come down on makers of low budget movies. I make low budget movies. Most of my friends make low budget movies. A lot of my favorite films are low budget. And in a general sense, I am totally in favor of the democratizing of filmmaking via the increasingly financially accessibility of digital video and HD technology. But it's also changed the definition of what a movie is.

Well, that's not really true. It just means that it's easier to get your idea, even if it's totally half-assed, into what would basically constitute a feature-film format, and with the influx of DVD companies, cable channels and film festivals, as well as digital distribution, easier to get at least a few people to see it. Of course, shitty low-budget movies aren't a specifically new thing. But, and this is totally a matter of opinion, and admittedly kind of snobbish opinion at that, there's a certain aura to bad low-budget films of bygone eras that I really don't feel is present in the current crop of similar shit. The older films have a certain degree of naivety, or at times an unrepentant, or importantly, unironic, sense of sleaziness or wrongness. Everything now is so self-aware, self-conscious and all too often self-confident when it ought not be.

Which is all probably more of an introduction than the recent, bad, low-budget horror film "Home Sick" really deserves. This film, directed by Adam Wingard from a script by EL Katz, is only the first or second new, American feature released by DVD company Synapse, and if it's any account of the company's general cinematic aesthetic, they should totally stick to 1970s and 1980s Eurotrash, Asian gore and American slashers. "Home Sick" sucks. It sucks AND it's shot on film (16mm), as opposed to DV or HD, so it probably wasn't as cheap to make as it looks or feels. And it feels pretty bad, mainly like an excuse for some extremely gory special effects, without much of a story or characters to back them up. I mean, there's a story, but it doesn't make any sense, and there are characters, but there isn't much to tell one from another, so I guess it's not a lack of these things that's the problem, it's the quality of them.

For one thing, it feels like New Jersey vomited all over this film. Seriously, all the characters are these obnoxious, drug-addled Jersey hardcore kids, but like that bad hardcore-metal hybrid, which isn't really hardcore and isn't really metal, isn't really that hard but somehow inspires loser suburban kids to act really hard, or try to, and sometimes the singers start rapping in it, y'know? It doesn't help that there's like 20 million characters in "Home Sick" and they're all pretty much exactly the same. There's characters in the opening scene who, as far as I could tell, never showed up in the film again. Or got killed, or something. Then there's a girl who's pretty clearly set up from the beginning to be the main character, or have some kind of significance as a character in the movie, but then just totally disappears from the middle hour of the movie, then shows up again at the end to do nothing. So, yeah, this whole movie is just all kind of Jersey motherfuckers running around getting killed or killing each other. Seriously, I watch this stuff so you don't have to.

The story, insomuch as there is one, has a bunch of these kids having one of their parties invaded, for some reason, by a creepy guy in a suit, played by Bill Moseley of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," who starts cutting himself, for some reason, and asks everyone who the person they hate the most is. Then those people starting getting tortured and killed. Then all the kids start getting killed. Then Tom Towles, from "Henry- Portrait of a Serial Killer," and easily the best actor at work here, shows up as a crazy Texas redneck with a bunch of guns. Then everybody else kills each other. The end. For real, that's the movie.

There are plenty of movies that are pretty much just excuses for cool special effects, and low-budget horror movies that exist just as gore for the sake of gore. Sometimes it works. I've mentioned "the Deadly Spawn" before. That's a film that's essentially just a showcase for some clever, bargain basement effects work, but the makers actually managed to craft a movie around their effects, with like style and characters and stuff. It feels like, you know, like a movie. And there's cheap, plotless gore movies that work too. Check out Nathan Shciff's Super-8 lensed "Long Island Cannibal Massacre." Totally bad acting, senseless story, cheap gory effects...but it's also fun. "Home Sick" isn't fun. And it isn't challenging in an artistic way. It's just a lousy movie. I don't even know why I bothered to write about it, and as I'm finishing this, I feel like I've sort of been wasting my time revisiting something that wasn't really worth the first 90 minutes I spent on it. Maybe if you're a nu-metal/pseudo-hardcore douchebag from Jersey you'd be really into this, but then you're probably friends with the dudes who made it anyway, and you always have to support your buddies work, right? Now matter how empty it makes you feel...

And "Long Island Cannibal Massacre?" Very educational. For one thing, I learned that leprosy can turn you into a flesh eating monster, invulnerable to bullets, with ill-defined psychic powers. I also learned that everyone on Long Island in the late 1970s/early 1980s had a moustache. Even the ladies. Seriously, this flick is a gas. Watch it twice.

More to come...

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