Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 20 Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made

Happy Halloween everyone!

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
2. Carrie - (Brian De Palma, 1976)
3. Suspiria - (Dario Argento, 1977)
4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer - (John McNaughton, 1986)
5. The Last House on the Left - (Wes Craven, 1971)
6. Halloween - (John Carpenter, 1978)
7. Night of the Living Dead - (George A. Romero, 1968)
8. Dawn of the Dead - (George A. Romero, 1979)
9. Videodrome - (David Cronenberg, 1983)
10. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
11. The Shining - (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
12. Freaks - (Tod Browning, 1932)
13. The Innocents - (Jack Clayton, 1961)
14. Frankenstein - (James Whale, 1931)
15. The Slumber Party Massacre - (Amy Holden Jones, 1982)
16. Nosferatu - (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
17. Re-Animator - (Stuart Gordon, 1985)
18. A Nightmare on Elm Street - (Wes Craven, 1984)
19. Nosferatu: The Vampyr - (Werner Herzog, 1979)
20. Black Christmas - (Bob Clark, 1974)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Horrorathon Day 29: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Ti West, 2009)

Almost too late to make much of a mark, Ti West's horror homage The House of the Devil arrives on the back end of a decade of spoofs and tributes and throwbacks and callbacks and post-post-modernism, that I fear it's astuteness will be overlooked. Those who do dismiss what West has done here would be remiss, since his nasty little film evokes the dread of post-Vietnam horror, if it's short on those films political subtext. It isn't quite the best horror film of the year either (that honor belongs to Jaume Collet-Serra's grossly overlooked Orphan) but what it does, it does exceedingly well, which is remain a small, effective chiller that reserves its real bite for the last 15 minutes.

West understands that horror must first be grounded in a real world before it can become frightening. That's precisely what he does. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a struggling college sophomore, looking to move out of her dorm room and away from her sexually promiscuous roommate. But in order to do that, she needs some cash. Insert crux of plot: she answers an add for a babysitter, whose offer ultimately isn;t what it appeared, but given the creepy old man (Tom Noonan) is willing to pay $400 for Samantha to watch after his sickly mother for an evening, she reluctantly accepts. This all happens around the 30 minute mark, as The House of the Devil is taking its time, building slowly to the payoff. The irony is, an effective horror film makes the preceding material just as interesting, if not more so than the horror. It does just that; Samantha's economic struggles are confronted with a moral dilemma and the necessity she has for money trumps any sort of moral or precautionary thought process. She has, in a sense, already sold her soul to the devil.

The film is sly too; subtle insertions that will later be recalled for plot purposes are important and deftly placed. Yet as the film relates to its roots, it isn't overt in such intentions. Surely, there are freeze frames during the opening credits and the lettering is straight from The Last House on the Left, but that's about all the film explicitly shares in common with such predecessors. The importance here is the narrative structure and character, as well as a few nicely executed sequences to ratchet up the stakes. Hell quite literally breaks loose in the last 15 minutes, but even then The House of the Devil doesn't loose its cool; understated rather than overt, the final image/reveal reflects the tone and philosophy of West's filmmaking; insinuate rather than explicate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horrorathon Day 28: STEPFATHER II (Jeff Burr, 1989)

The best thing about a horror sequel is that it can take the original idea and endlessly multiply the inanity. In the case of Stepfather II, this is done organically instead of through easy camp. Locked in an insane asylum since after murdering a family more than a year ago, Jerry Blake (Terry O'Quinn) seems to have vanquished his insanity. Yeah right. After stabbing a doctor through the back of his neck and beating a guard with his own nightstick, he's out into the world, seeking a new family to settle in with.

The aforementioned form of the sequel delves deeper into Blake's obsession with the old-fashioned family. That is, it has fun with his psychosis, but the lampooning remains within the confines of its filmic world. This is how spoof should function. Not through banal one-liners or knowing acknowledgement of its own self-awareness. It should address the obvious in that it is a film, but provide a well-constructed narrative in which to play it out. Stepfather II does this quite well; see Blake's disgust with whiny, promiscuous or working women. Also, after getting engaged, he insists upon waiting until the wedding night to have sex! Awesome, right? It's awesome because of the understated political subtext. Progressive ideals vs. conservatism. Conservatism is inherently misogynist and leads to illogical primitive reaction to difference. That is to say, with violence. The sophistication of Stepfather II will go unnoticed by those who would rather focus on its "stupidity," but true cinema lovers will relish all of its seedy, adept glory.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Horrorathon Day 27: ANTICHRIST (Lars Von Trier, 2009)

The most controversial film of the year is little more than what any Lars Von Trier opus is; an exercise in massive ego stroking and blithe, indulgent misanthropy. As Armond White said in his review of Antichrist, "Von Trier's never made a good film." Yeah, spot on Armond. From the formalistic masturbation of The Element of Crime to the...formalistic masturbation of Breaking the Waves, each film from his oeuvre
has no real interest in its human subjects. Like another comparable nihilist - Jared Hess - the intent of the form is undermined by the horrendous circumstances Von Trier seems to enjoy seeing his characters writhe in. Pain, despair, bodily malfunction, self-mutilation; they're all part of his superficial game. He is a filmmaker whom deserves no real notice or consideration. His films become controversial because of such easy muck-raking, like the title of the film. What's most damning of Von Trier, though, is that he has nothing to actually voice or say in any of his narratives, especially Antichirst, which plays more like a tonally smug, thematically barren wasteland, with no other purpose than for Von Trier to see if he can, yet again, one-up himself.

So He (Willem Defoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) venture into the woods, attempting to confront the fears of She, who deems the woods her ultimate phobia. This follows a black & white, slo-mo prologue, in which the pair, fucking, neglect She's child, who falls out the window to his death. In these woods, there seems to be no definable sense of reality for either character. Von Trier wishes to suggest that the goings on exist in some meta form, as if an Edenic paradise has sprouted, yet contains things which transgress nature; this includes deformed animals, the abnormal falling of acorns and periods of psychological trickery. The latter is a solid example of Von Trier's nastiness. She, grappling with the death of her son, hears a cry, but can't place it. She searches, the cry evoking her still unconquered grief. The scene ultimately comes to nothing. It's followed by similar scenes, which showcase bodily pain and mental anguish. And that Von Trier dresses these going on up in a pretty, saturated aesthetic, only further proves his disinterest, perhaps even ignorance to what constitutes artistic merit, as it relates to humanity. Von Trier is a faux-humanist, who places his despondent characters in scenarios of hardship and pain, but ultimately just exploits it to prove no point and only highlight how proud he is of the shots he composes.

The particulars of Antichrist aren't even that interesting, because it is all coated in nastiness, disgust. Whether or not Lars Von Trier actually hates humanity is unknown, but that he ends this film by dedicating it to Andrei Tarkovsky, should put to rest the myth that Von Trier actually has any true chops as a competent, profound filmmaker.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - (Spike Jonze, 2009)

I wrote a review on Where the Wild Things Are for THE CAROLINIAN. Here it is:


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Box Office Predictions (10/30-11/01)

1. Michael Jackson's This Is It - 37 Million - NEW
2. Paranormal Activity - 15.6 Million - -26%
3. Law Abiding Citizen - 7.6 Million - -39%
4. Where the Wild Things Are - 7.1 Million - -49%
5. Couples Retreat - 6.7 Million - -37%
6. Saw VI - 5.5 Million - -61%
7. Astro Boy - 3.8 Million - -43%
8. The Stepfather - 3.7 Million - -41%
9. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 3.7 Million - -31%
10. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - 3 Million - -53%

Michael Jackson's This Is It is the only new opener this weekend, with almost no competition to speak of. The only question regarding it is just how large it will open. Producers were estimating a whopping 200M in its first five days, but the sell-outs thus far have not indicated such a ridiculous figure. It seems to be a case of overhype, though it should still do reasonably well. Expect around 40M for the 3-day, 65M for the 5-day. After the hilarious bomb of Saw VI, MJ will likely spice things up a bit.

Next week: Disney's A Christmas Carol, the real-life creeper The Fourth Kind, the Richard Kelly helmed thriller The Box and the unfortunately titled The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Horrorathon Day 26: THE STEPFATHER (Joseph Ruben, 1987)

The Stepfather is a great genre horror film. It has all the components to meet that qualification, namely a delightfully terrorizing/psychotic performance by Terry O'Quinn, and a great addition to the horror discourse on the "family," begun by such classics as The Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If The Stepfather is slightly lacking in the latter department, it compensates with dynamic little scenes between characters, hilarious bits of business and a general sense of the death of pastoral America.

An unfortunate PG-13 remake (unseen by me) no doubt homogenizes and tarnishes the sharp genre tropes and a genuine feeling of the transition of societal mores. Relish a campy, but heartfelt scene where the psychotic Quinn sentimentally watches a young family, who greet the father as he arrives home from work. It has an air of surrealism, his illogical and idealistic family hierarchy now usurped by unruly kids, transgressing boyfriends and distrustful wives. His lament is met, though, with unblinking brutality, not realizing that his actions equally go against the grain of communal trust. To read it as a Reagan-era parable may stretch it (but weren't all mid-80's flicks just that?) but whichever way one views it, The Stepfather is truly worth seeking out.

Horrorathon Day 25: CAT PEOPLE (Paul Schrader, 1982)

Sometimes, a remake is a useful, even vital component of filmic vernacular, as it is able to delve into or explore an issue or aspect of the original film, that was hindered by the production code. Paul Schrader's Cat People is a film like that, expounding upon the sexual repression and fear implicated in Tourneur's original. In full eroticized mode, Schrader spares no opportunity to have his actors shot mid-coitus, implicating their atavistic primality. Nastassja Kinski is game for the necessity of modernity, the explicit sexualization of the the monstrous feminine.

Like all of Scharder's films, however, other interesting components creep in. The primary villain, or the one trying to turn Kinski, is her brother (Malcolm McDowell). This inclusion is, quite obviously, an allusion to early 80's zeitgeist and fear, of homosexuality and AIDS. The frail, but masculine essence of McDowell's performance communicates this, but it's Scharder's abstract sense of plot mechanism that makes him most effective. It's a strange film, but a pretty great one, on nearly every level. As with all of the 1970's American virtuosos, Schrader commands the frame with utter precision. There will be no knock on his inability to present the material visually. Where one could find fault, is in the resistance the film has to being solely a genre picture. Its suggestion of such themes and the refusal to answer them with an easy conclusion or finitude, is absent. Schrader's never made a film to equal those he penned for Scorsese, but he is an even more esoteric, hard to grasp filmmaker. In a way, it makes him more intriguing, though his desire to not conform whatsoever, relegates his work as more fascinating than excellent.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Horrorathon Day 24: CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

Female sexuality is a dangerous, scary thing. Or, at least, that's the premise of Jacques Tourneur's genre-making masterpiece Cat People, whose Val Lewton produced films of the 1940's helped to solidify horror as the premier venue for allegory. The film is just that; an acerbic assessment of a cultural zeitgeist, holding a fear or concern now thought to be exclusively expressed in film noir. What such genre summarization fails to take notice of, though, is that such labels are applied ex post facto. Phenomenology defies genre or style.

In the case of Cat People, the marvelous directing talents of Tourneur are on full display; any fan of cinematography must begin with his films (ok, Karl Freund is the starting point, but I digress). The compositional intensity is matched by camera moves that only suggest violence and trauma. There's little to none in terms of "scare scenes" in Cat People, though it isn't short on tension. Fashion artist Irena (Simone Simon) is befriended by sexually interested naval construction designer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). They are eventually married; but she remains reticent about her sexual feelings and desires. Then, when Oliver falls in love with a woman in his office, she becomes jealous, deceitful, fierce. The brilliance of Tourneur's film, which could easily have slipped into clunky misogyny, is that it transcends that trap by making gynophobia not the point, but a subject for thorough examination. Anxiety of female co-workers, sexual equality and revolution, all posed a growing threat to the hegemonic culture. The feline, the feminine figure of the cat, with her clawing, scratching phallic substitute, is the perfect atavistic figure to portray such uncertainty.

Horrorathon Day 23: PIECES (Juan Piquer Simon, 1982)

I will update this post later in the week, with a link to a write-up I've done for this week's issue of THE CAROLINIAN.

Here is that link:


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Horrorathon Day 22: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (J. Lee Thompson, 1981)

Happy Birthday to Me is something rare; a slasher film helmed by a director at the end of his long, successful career. J. Lee Thompson is man behind films like The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962). Gregory Peck once said the he trusted but four directors: Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, William Wyler and Thompson. It’s wonderful company to hold and the mark of an experienced filmmaker is on display early in Happy Birthday to Me; fluid camera movements, bits of business for the characters, under rather than overstatement of the material, etc. He even employs the ever reliable Glenn Ford in a small, but significant role. He’s clearly a gifted man. The question becomes, though, is Happy Birthday to Me a significant film because of it.

The simplest answer is no, mainly because Thompson isn’t able to transcend the typical subject matter; some filmmakers can do this. Men like Seijun Suzuki and Douglas Sirk could take what would be trite and uninspired in lesser hands and turn it into something memorable, if not often a masterpiece, in the case of Sirk. Thompson is competent, surely, but not in such a league. He does realize the fun of the genre he’s in, however. After all, in a movie called Happy Birthday to Me, someone’s face must eventually fall into a cake, right? Right. The narrative involves childhood trauma, psychological torment and gruesome murders. All aspersed with a tinge of humor, of course. Excellent death scenes include a weight lifter and his nuts, as well as the infamous shish kebab. The biggest issue here is the circumstances surrounding these scenes. They aren’t very strong. Thompson is at his best when he can indulge the macabre and he’s able to do it just enough, which makes Happy Birthday to Me largely watchable, if only sporadically interesting.

Horrorathon Day 21: PHANTASM II (Don Coscarelli, 1988)

The best thing about watching any film from the past, is that you inevitably uncover influences they have had on contemporary cinema. It struck me while watching Phantasm II, a pretty awesome flick, that Zombieland is essentially the same film, just a much lamer version. In Phantasm II, Mike (James LeGros) seeks vengeance on The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) after the destruction of the first film; he lies to gain his release from a mental asylum, and it's the sort of film that doesn't ask to be reasoned, meaning his release is just a means to get him back in the The Tall Man's pursuits. He teams up with older friend Reggie (Reggie Banister). There's a standard scene where they build an arsenal, with chainsaws, quadruple barrel-shotguns, grenades and a custom-made flamethrower. It's a typical scene for an on-the-road action/horror film, but then this film is all about set pieces, not any coherent tone sustained throughout.

And it is indeed the set pieces that make the film worthwhile, given its lack of significance on any other level. This includes The Tall Man's big flying killer balls (does he have a patent on those things?) which deftly impale, suck and drain brain juice, or blood. For some reason, The Tall Man has yellow blood. It's that kind of film; if you get hung up on the particulars, which don't really mean anything or denounce it for its genre elements, such as playful brutality and exploitation, then it could be pretentiously discarded (Ebert, I'm looking at you). But if a stick isn't lodged too far in your ass, you'll have great fun with Phantasm II.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Horrorathon Day 20: THE PROWLER (Joseph Zito, 1981)

As a slasher film, The Prowler is notable for something rare to the genre; restraint. Not in the sense of gore - there's more than enough to go around. Yet it isn't so concerned with amounting an overwhelming body count. It takes its time, letting characters truly wonder and discover the terror that a madman has wreaked. In this sense, it has a certain degree of sophistication that many of its contemporaries do not. It's interesting, but at times also stagnant to the narrative at hand. The slasher film almost necessitates a zippier tone (unless we're talking a director like John Carpenter, who has the skills necessary to prolong the inevitable without venturing into tedium). Zito is talented too, but he doesn't have near the tricks up his sleeve that Carpenter's Halloween did, so the delay is just that at times.

Nevertheless, the set pieces are amazing. The credits reveal none other than Tom Savini as the man responsible, and one wouldn't have it any other way. There is a top of head through bottom of jaw impaling, two separate shotgun blasts with exit wounds, a slit throat with a 12-inch blade and an exploding head to end all exploding heads. The difference between The Prowler and Eyes of a Stranger
is that the former has a sincerity to it, injected by the soul-baring direction of Zito. The latter is a manufactured studio project meant to capitalize on and exploit those desiring more subversive material. Gruesome, nasty and awesome, The Prowler is well worth the wait.

Box Office Predictions (10/23-10/25)

1. Saw VI - 25.3 Million - NEW
2. Paranormal Activity - 22.6 Million - +115%
3. Where the Wild Things Are - 17.3 Million - -47%
4. Astro Boy - 12.4 Million - NEW
5. Law Abiding Citizen - 12.2 Million - -42%
6. Couples Retreat - 9.5 Million - -45%
7. Amelia - 6.1 Million - NEW
8. The Stepfather - 5.6 Million - -52%
9. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 5.4 Million - -33%
10. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - 5.1 Million - NEW

Two horror films will duke it out for the top spot and Saw VI is likely to retain most of its former staying power. Expect a slight dip from the previous entry, though one can only hope that it sees a more significant nosedive. Paranormal Activity will have a shot at #1, but in just under 2000 theaters, it likely won't unless Saw mania has ceased. Less notable, Astro Boy, Amelia and Cirque du Freak are likely to open in a non-stellar way. Except CDF to outright bomb, as it struggles to amount a $1500 per theater average. Amelia may have an impressive average, though it could just as easily struggle.

Next week: Michael Jackson's This Is It will rule as the only new opener. The only question is, just how big it can be.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Horrorathon Day 19: THE PIT (Lew Lehman, 1981)

Not quite a children's film, though its lead character is indeed a child, The Pit
would make one hell of a double bill with Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are; they are essentially the same movie. Unable to deal with the lack of attention and care he feels he is entitled to, a young boy lashes out and ventures off to a land where he can be himself. Only in the case of The Pit, the imaginary land and beasts are flesh-feeding demons, who need the boy's teddy bear to telepathically communicate their needs of sustenance.

Ok, so The Pit isn't the endeavor into the psychology of children that Wild Things is. The success of it, though, hinges on the awkward child lead Jamie, played with hilarious incompetence/sincerity by Sammy Snyders. There's a formidable relationship between him and his babysitter, who thinks she's capable of handling the friendless kid. Jamie is curious about the female body and tries to sneak peeks at her while in the shower. His innocent peeking would be harmless if he didn't have a demented teddy bear with ulterior motives. The demons in Jamie's pit ultimately amass an impressive body count, as he draws all of his unliked neighbors/friends to be devoured. The narrative is ultimately inane, but the simplicity of the stupidity is completely charming and The Pit has more than its share of creepy laughs.

Horrorathon Day 18: MAD MONSTER PARTY (Jules Bass, 1967)

After seeing Where the Wild Things Are this weekend, I was reminded of just how dumbed down children's films have become; here was a movie that didn't have a single pop culture reference and really honed in on the emotional complexity of a child, even if, on the whole, it was a bit too self-satisfied in the process. Here's also a film that demonstrates that a movie made for kids doesn't have to seem as if it was made by them. Mad Monster Party is a decidedly goofy, silly - but entirely intelligent and fun seasonal effort, that could be thouroughly enjoyed by kids, adults and stoners alike.

Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) is ready to retire from his position as head of the monster council, which includes Dracula, The Invisible Man and The Mummy, among others. The best character in the film, though is Felix Flankin (Allen Swift) the young, outrageously incompetent nephew Frankenstein wishes to follow him. Swift voices Felix like a young, nerdy Jimmy Stewart. Everything he does, in combination with the bizarre stop-motion animation, is absolutely hilarious. It's all derived from his behavior and physical awkwardness, not a half-witted pun or one-liner. The monster stuff is great fun too; if you haven't seen this (which I hadn't until now) don't be put off by it potentially being beneath you. It's not; its acerbic comic touch is utterly sophisticated.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Horrorathon Day 17: EYES OF A STRANGER (Ken Wiederhorn, 1981)

It's appropriate in some ways to view Eyes of a Stranger the night after watching My Bloody Valentine; the latter has a playful mean streak that can be enjoyed in terms of its relationship to genre. The former, on the other hand, is the sort of truly misanthropic drivel only capable of coming from a major studio. In an attempt to "class-up" the slasher film, Eyes of a Stranger attempts to provide credible actors, detailed set design and palatable story as a substitute for the low-budget means of its superior counterparts. In doing this, and in needlessly and callously lingering on the exploitation, suffering and death of its killer/rapist's victims, it is the most hollowed sort of horror film.

A typical instance involves the killer, an overweight, glasses wearing, heavy breathing psychopath, calling his victim and bluntly telling them, "I'm going to fuck you/kill you." There's no suspense to this and no reason for it to be presented in this way, other than utterly degrading the victim. The script has an acutely inherrent misogyny as well; the women keep answering the phone when the killer calls, instead of phoning for help or seeking a sharp object. This assumes that they crave such attention, even if it comes at the expense of their lives. Other pointless digressions involve the double murder of a parked couple; after the killer slits a woman's throat, the camera remains to show her, for 15-20 seconds, gargling and choking to death on her own blood. It's just nasty stuff, with no sense of irony whatsoever. It's this type of literal, leadened filmmaking used to exploit an underground film movement and is passed off as part of it; they understand the lyrics, but they don't understand that it's the music which gives the lyrics their gravitas.

Jennifer Jason Leigh stars in the film, which was her debut role. Note that she plays a blind, deaf victim of childhood trauma. When in doubt about making sure the audience empathizes with a character, go ahead and make her severely handicapped for good measure. It comes as no surprise that the last scene involves the rapist walking around, tormenting the poor helpless girl. Neither is it surprising that the movie is as condescending as to have her nearly get raped, herself, before being rescued in the nick of time. The filmmakers here are tone deaf themselves, completely misunderstanding how and why a slasher is successful and what makes them interesting, on the whole. It isn't such blatant hatred and contempt for the audience that this movie has, that's certain. For a great film that sincerely deals with the psychotic serial killer, see Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But avoid Eyes of a Stranger at all costs, unless you just hate yourself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Horrorathon Day 16: MY BLOODY VALENTINE (George Mihalks, 1981)

To say that the mantra of My Bloody Valentine would be "Fuck Valentine's Day" probably doesn't quite describe its level of contempt. No, it's hatred runs deeper, pissed off at anything resembling mainstream culture and those who embrace it. It's perfect irony that remake culture now runs rampant, commodifying what was once anarchic. Sure, My Bloody Valentine capitalizes on the holiday hook of forbearers like Black Christmas and Halloween, but it unleashes a killer that doesn't mess around. The avenging, pick-axe swinging miner uses his large, but surprisingly maneuverable phallus without the slightest hesitation. It's a mean-spirited movie. Though it's also a rather funny one, particularly when it lingers on two local lawmen, intent to make sure the killer doesn't strike again. It's at once odd and nasty, with abrupt tonal shifts from scene to scene; but it understands the inherent nihilism of the genre its working from. Rarely does a film that's 'shameless' not ring arrogant or ignorant, but the integration of said humor with horrible, horrible killings makes the viewing experience, at the very least, unique.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horrorathon Day 15: THE INNOCENTS (Jack Clayton, 1961)

Pauline Kael called Jack Clayton's The Innocents, "The best ghost movie I've ever seen." Kael was right; even 48 years after its initial release, no other ghost film springs to mind that has quite the ability to chill. Based on the Henry James novel "The Turn of the Screw," the narrative involves a governess (Deborah Kerr) of two children who begins to suspect a supernatural presence may be lurking around their Victorian mansion. Filmed in lush black and white by Oscar winning cinematographer Freddie Francis (as well as utilizing the wide frame with its 2.35.1 format), The Innocents gets its scares the hard, but always scarier way; through the mise-en-scene. Long shots of lurking figures, quick cut away's, super-impositions, a child's humming of a nursery song, chiaroscuro. These are the elements that create real horror, not inane and arbitrary music cues and jump scares.

What makes The Innocents so effective, in addition to visual style, are the implications in the relationship between the children and their governess. She loves the children. No, she really loves the children. They are her sole reason for existence. The dynamic between them grows and develops throughout, culminating in a provocative finale. The suggestions made are an acute exploration of the fragile line between maternal care and possession. The wholly developed narrative allows the visuals to carry such weight; like The Exorcist after it, the combination of a strong, slow-burning story with sharp injections of visceral angst make the horror come to fruition. Hardly a drop of blood is split in The Innocents, and it doesn't need it to frighten. Here's a film likely to satisfy scholars and audiences alike. Perhaps that's the truest sense of a classic genre film.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Horrorathon Day 14: TRICK R' TREAT (Michael Dougherty, 2009)

Trick R' Treat opens with a reverse tracking shot, pulling away from an opening close-up on a jack-o-lantern. It's a nice little homage to Carpenter's Halloween, establishing its credibility not through name-dropping dialogue, but filmmaking suggestive of its influences. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes all too clear that Michael Dougherty's debut not only has no further intention of astute references, it isn't interested in creating any cohesive horror film. Essentially an anthology just out of chronological order, the differing stories overlap, but are never totally separated from the others. It's no wonder either, given its jokey tone and occasionally bizarre narrative, that Warner Bros. chose to send this direct to DVD.

It, like all 'too-cool-for-school' hipster flicks, is solely intent on delivering camp and anything associated with it. Good example: A female teenager, who's later revealed to be a werewolf, comments early on that she "ate some bad Mexican earlier." Yeesh. Such poor...taste does not make successful or worthy camp. Other vignettes involve a slaughtered busload of handicapped kids, an old man who hates Halloween and a dad with more than a few secrets. The playful demeanor allows much of the proceedings to run on fairly painlessly, but rarely (or, rather, never) does Trick r' Treat make any kind of lasting impression. It chugs from story to story, the chronology slowly coming into place, then ends. It's worth a few laughs for its intentional inanity, but deserves no praise for taking such a lackadaisical approach.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Horrorathon Day 13: HARDWARE (Richard Stanley, 1990)

Hardware could just as easily have been titled Hard-on, given its eroticized, slick aesthetic. Set in a post-apocalyptic desert some years into the future, a drifter finds a prototype for a primitive drone, known as the M.A.R.K. 13. Naturally, like in all post-apocalyptic lands, the technology is the villain, intent on killing all humans in its path.

But Hardware, though it may look and present itself as an inspired sci-fi/horror piece, is absolutely derivative of much more substantial films like Blade Runner and Alien. And if being utterly derivative weren't enough, the narrative itself is an utter bore. It establishes this extensive futuristic world (on an impressive low-budget) but injects almost nothing to exacerbate the circumstances. Yet worst of all is the employment of an industrial metal overkill, the music punctuating and serving as a mode of prentension for the hollowed sci-fi discourse. See also the biblical epitaph which begins the film: "No flesh shall be spared." There is a nice death scene involving a potential pervert/rapist, but it comes far too late to even potentially salvage one's interest.

Box Office Predictions (10/16-10/18)

1. Paranormal Activity - 32.2 Million - +408%
2. Where the Wild Things Are - 28.7 Million - NEW
3. Couples Retreat - 19.2 Million - -44%
4. Law Abiding Citizen - 10.3 Million - NEW
5. Zombieland - 9 Million - -36%
6. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 7.9 Million - -31%
7. The Stepfather - 6.9 Million - NEW
8. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D - 5.2 Million - -42%
9. Surrogates - 2.4 Million - -45%
10. Whip It - 1.9 Million - -41%

Well, that's what happens when you call for a quiet weekend; a flick like Paranormal Activity comes out of the woodwork and breaks all kinds of limited records, averaging a whopping $50,000 per theater from 159 locations. Paramount has announced they will go wide this weekend. If that means 1000 theaters, then don't be shocked at all if it takes the weekend (and perhaps the next). It will have to defeat Where the Wild Things Are, however, a film which seems like it could have no bounds at the box office. It's the rare film that will appeal to both 8 year-olds and college students, making it potentially break-out material. That said, it has a much darker edge than the usual family movie, so that potential may not be actualized. If it is, though, then 40M isn't out of the question. Also opening are the Jamie Foxx/Gerard Butler starrer Law Abiding Citizen and the horror remake The Stepfather, each with a built-in audience that will be seeking genre fun, so neither should embarrass itself too bad. Unfortunately for The Stepfather, with Paranormal Activity going wide and Saw VI opening next week, it may get lost in the horror buff shuffle. Next week is equally full, as Mira Nair's Amelia, animated pic Astro Boy, the not-so-eagerly-awaited Saw VI and the horror throwback Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant all get wide releases.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Horrorathon Day 12: PSYCHO II (Richard Franklin, 1983)

Everything about Psycho II smacks of desperation. Picking up 22 years after the initial murders, Norman (Anthony Perkins) is now all 'growed' up and no longer considered a menace II society; he snags a job at a diner. But, of course, he's still suffering from the same maternal woes. The narrative revolves around Norman and a lonely waitress from the diner (Meg Tilly) who takes pity on poor Normy. Her motives aren't quite as they appear though...

That teaser should in no way suggest Psycho II is worthwhile. Its jokey 'return-of-the-repressed' discourse is a slap in the face to the original. Why do franchises (Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are the best examples) always resort to self-effacement in the sequels? What was once serious is now fodder for tired lampooning. It isn't a total loss here; pre-ass baring Dennis Franz has a sleazy role as a drug pushing motel manager. Here's a typical line: "At least my customers have a good time! What do yours get, Bates? Huh? Dead! That's what! Murdered by you, you loony!" But it's the hokey New-Yorker accent which sells it. The biggest problem, though, is how uninspired the direction is. Given the utter lack of creativity in the script, gimme some nice shots, interesting framework, something. If it suddenly seems like you're watching a mid-Sunday afternoon hack-job, you aren't alone. As a horror film, it commits the ultimate fault (though there's many others to speak of): there's nothing at stake. No one, on or behind camera, appears to care. Such a smack of desperation comes when the wallets are bare and the checks have already been signed.

Horrorathon Day 11: TOURIST TRAP (David Schmoeller, 1979)

Tourist Trap is most notable for being an early film in the original slasher period (1978-1983). It also has some great death scenes, as when a pipe is flung at a roaming 20's something and the music cuts out; the camera slowly pans down. An audible drip can be heard on the soundtrack. Blood is revealed to be pouring from it, slowly, as the guy screams (unheard) for his life. It's a great scene, purely from a genre perspective.

This definitely isn't a film short on creativity (though its narrative is quite an odd hybrid of The Texas Chansaw Massacre and House of Wax). As in any backwoods story, modern industrialization has affected the socio-economic status and self-esteem of the deranged killer(s). In TCM, "the gun" had replaced good ol' fashioned slaughterhouse head-bashing. Here, the example is a little less gruesome: "Ever since they built that new highway, no one much comes around here anymore." This also rings of Norman Bates explanation in Psycho. Thus, Tourist Trap has more than a few recognizable precursors, which one can usually overlook, but here, the silliness of the story just doesn't allow such fun to commence. I would attribute it precisely to such a hybridization of previous genre works; Tourist Trap is all over the place in terms of tone and intention. Funny, horrible, gruesome - but wholly uneven. Its intentions pull against one another. It ultimately comes off as goofy more than anything else, though Chuck Connors is a pretty formidable psychopath. Fact is, the material is stretched to 90 minutes, when it should have been wrapping up around 70. Length is usually a petty quibble, but here it makes a difference. The contrasting tones, at 70 minutes, wouldn't have been so prevalent, though still present. Tourist Trap is by no means an un-enjoyable film, but it is a severely inconsistent one.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Horrorathon Day 10: THE INVISIBLE MAN (James Whale, 1933)

The Invisible Man, which comes from the H.G. Wells novel, deserves to be considered alongside Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula, as the best of classic Universal horror films; perhaps it already is considered such, but it shouldn't necessarily be overshadows by those films, is the point. It has a gritty, mean-streak of its own, akin to Cagney's death at the end of The Public Enemy. Our titular villain isn't merely playing practical jokes and trying to sneak into a naked woman's apartment (Hollow Man, anyone?), but thirsts for the ability of self-improvement, yet goes mad in the process. He then kills policeman, topples a car off of a cliff and derails a train, full of passengers. He's a cold-blooded terrorist.

It shouldn't be surprising that horror films used to actually be about something; picking up where he left off with Frankenstein, Whale is interested in understanding man's relationship to scientific progress and the potentially disastrous consequences that could result under the societal transgressions of a single man. It's all about a fear of the unknown, a fear that scientific progress will lap man's ability to comprehend it. Of course, there are nice sight gags and effects, as when the invisible man (Claude Rains) steals a bike and goes riding down a dirt road. But it isn't camp either; there's humor in the horrific and Whale takes every opportunity to reveal it. Thus, it has a balance modern horror often cannot comprehend. It's funny without being self-aware. It's scary without being bombastic. It possesses subtlety. Too many current filmmakers need to look up the definition.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

THE INVENTION OF LYING - (Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, 2009)

The Invention of Lying is in a Groundhog Day vein, but I would also compare it to Shallow Hal at least in terms of its comedic approach. Both of those are quite good and Ricky Gervais's co-directorial debut belongs somewhere in the discussion. It isn't as funny as Shallow Hal but it is a bit more perceptive and ambitious in subject matter. Yes, The Invention of Lying is about the birth of religion; the first instance where a man realized he could manipulate others by taking advantage of their earnest susceptibilities. Yet, interestingly enough for Gervais's film, the derivation of such a lie comes not from a fulfillment of self-interest, but the desire to ease the worries and suffering of a dieing loved one (though it does argue for the former, as well). It's a binary which is a crucial point when evaluating its 'condescension' factor. Gervais injects a fair amount into it, in assuming that only emotionally frail buffoons could be religious, but it never descends to pity or self-aggrandizing. The larger point it addresses rather astutely, is the manner in which fervent religious adherence to any specific doctrine, leads to a degradation of all things related to secular humanity. Gervais, an atheist himself, believes religion is the exploitation of the ignorant and uneducated by a more educated people with social and economic power (the film's ultimate premise), but it doesn't become a finger-pointing, 'wrong or right' affair. There's a definite degree of class and refinement to the piece. It ends on a fairly standard rom-com note, but in a way it plays to charm of it all. It displays a degree of humility for Gervais, something he hasn't shown previously. The Invention of Lying isn't propaganda, but a romantic comedy about death. Fact is, it examines death, as well as the human fear and uncertainty about it, intelligently. Whether or not one ultimately agrees with its assessments, isn't that all it can do?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Horrorathon Day 9: THE CHURCH (Michele Soavi, 1989)

As a sort of bookend to Dreyer's Day of Wrath, there is The Church, conceived to be the third and final chapter of Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava's Demons trilogy; when Bava stepped down as director, Argento went with former AD Soavi, fresh off of his stellar debut Stagefright. The result is likely the best of the trilogy, though one could easily argue for the sheer glee of the original. While The Church might not be as crowd-pleasingly formulated, it is quite the formidable horror film and deftly a sense of kaleidoscopic terror, thanks primarily to the startling visual effects and a truly haunting score conducted by Philip Glass and performed by The Goblins.

The Church begins like all great horror, with a prologue; it's the 12th century and mass genocide occurs when many villagers are deemed to be under the control of witches. Immediately, Soavi's command over the composition and essence of his work is on display; while not containing the hollowed realism of snoozefests like Braveheart and Gladiator that are for some reason considered the standard, The Church takes a much more abstract approach. It establishes a sense of ethereal menace, as if horrible deeds are being performed by divine figures. The bulk of the film operates on this level. Of course, like its spiritual predecessor The Fog, the wronged return to wreak havoc on the living, as a cathedral is now built upon the site of the massacre. There isn't a whole lot of slaying and bloodshed in The Church, at least not in the manner one might expect. Yet this is responsible for much of the film's effectiveness. Like the admittedly superior The Fog, the terror derives from the tension of the possibility of bloodshed, not the actual act. The quick bursts of Glass's score when things do get messy are so positively inspired, that any lull in the story or lack of momentary tension is forgiven. The film ends nicely too, lingering on the shot of a young Asia Argento, a nice foreshadowing of what the future held for her and a solid capper on a pretty decent fright flick.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Horrorathon Day 8: DAY OF WRATH (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943)

Carl Th. Dreyer’s witchhunt masterpiece Day of Wrath may not be considered a horror film by conventional standards; it doesn’t have masked slashers, hungry vampires or soul-seeking demons. No, its destructor is the worst and most horrifying villain of all: the church.

Set in 1623 Denmark, where anyone and everyone still believe witches are operating in opposition to the church, the narrative initially centers upon an elderly woman, accused of practicing witchcraft. The woman, herself, believes she may be a witch too, especially after she is physically tortured for a confession. The surrounding characters, being an older priest, his younger wife and his son, provide three contrasting moral stances that come into opposition after the elderly woman is burned at the stake. The young wife and the son fall in love, further jeopardizing and angering the strict social and 'moral' code set by their religion.

What Dreyer does exceptionally well, like Bunuel and Bergman after him, is use religion not as a mode for condescension and easy pot shots, but a serious and sincere examination of not just religious dogma, but mortality. It's unforgettable to watch the elder woman, Marte, beg for her life, even though she, herself, has been beaten into believing she is a witch, capable of rising the dead from the earth. It's juxtaposed with innocent children singing a hymn about death, bloodshed and penance. Such images and scenes belong in the greatest annals of film history. Dreyer certainly wasn't a happy-go-lucky man, but he was clearly in an on-going struggle to uncover the secret and truth of existence. He, like all others, comes up short, but his depiction of injustice as the worst form of inhumanity comes as close as anyone ever has to piercing the veil.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Horrorathon Day 7: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (Kevin Tenney, 1988)

Here's yet another 80's horror flick that needs some midnight play; Night of the Demons manages to be both spoof and demon picture all at once. And guess what? Not once does it interpret spoof as direct referencing to other films. Though it certainly has fun with certain slasher character types (fat jock, old man, goth girls, token black guy, virgin but naughty heroine, etc.) there's never any direct attribution for the source. This is how pop culture should function; as assumed rather than explicit non-commentary on a genre.

Night of the Demons
certainly isn't scary or even particularly interesting; however, the first 20 minutes are downright hilarious purely for the string of poor taste that's assembled. Lines like "those goddamn kids are going straight to hell" and "shut up and drive bitch" score big laughs. Also notable is the make-up effects. Try not to laugh out loud at a disappearing tube of lipstick trick. The last half hour is kinda boring, but it doesn't outweigh the sincerity and good cheer of the first hour. Get drunk and enjoy.


Here's a review that I wrote on 'Zombieland' for the UNCG newspaper, THE CAROLINIAN.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Horrorathon Day 6: THE HUNGER (Tony Scott, 1983)

I hate the term guilty pleasure when referencing a movie; it implies that taste and quality don't always correlate, that someone could enjoy something fundamentally bad. Thus, I've never embraced its usage, though after seeing Tony Scott's The Hunger I may have to reconsider; here is a film so terrible and so terribly good looking, both in terms of visual style and its sensual implications, that any attempt to bash it outright would and should be met with trepidation.

No matter how inept Scott is at earnestly suggesting a correlation between his lead characters' lust for blood/sustenance and some sort of drug addiction/homosexuality, his verve as a purely visual filmmaker deserves to be at least mentioned, if not celebrated. But this is Scott in general. Only rarely, with Revenge and True Romance, has Scott been able to combine his aesthetic right with a suitable left, that being a narrative to match. Yet with The Hunger, Scott's pomposity is nearly as awe-inspiring as his wide shots of sunglass wearing, cigarette sucking vampires. His vamps are David Bowie and Catherine Denueve, no less; their artful mansion serves as a haven for the playing of classical music and distance staring while they await they're feeding. Involved too, is a doctor seeking a cure for aging, the equally stunning Susan Surandon.

Each shot Scott sets up fucking rocks; The opening 10 minutes, while absolutely laughable and preposterous, are edited so well, that the ludicrous lingering on flesh, blood and lipstick don't really matter. The Hunger is one of few rare instances where style can trump substance and not render itself inadequate. It doesn't hurt either, to have a wonderfully sexy 'scène de lesbiennes' featuring Denueve and Surandon, both of whom get completely naked! How is this scene not as famous as the sweaty fuck in Don't Look Now or the whispery make-out in Mulholland Dr.? I can't say, and even though The Hunger never amounts its allegory to anything other than utterly offensive implications, you, uh, you should still check it out.

Box Office Predictions (10/09-10/11)

1. Couples Retreat - 30.3 Million - NEW
2. Zombieland - 14.1 Million - -43%
3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 11.2 Million - -29%
4. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D - 10.5 Million - -16%
5. The Invention of Lying - 3.9 Million - -45%
6. Capitalism: A Love Story - 3.1 Million - -31%
7. Surrogates - 3 Million - -58%
8. The Informant! - 2.4 Million - -44%
9. Whip It - 2.2 Million - -52%
10. Fame - 1.9 Million - -59%

With only one new opener (Couples Retreat) it should be a fairly quiet weekend, though don't be surprised if CR breaks out with a +30 opening. It isn't guaranteed by any stretch, but given the stable competition, it may be enough to give it the edge. Next week: three new openers, Law Abiding Citizen, The Stepfather and the eagerly awaited, Where the Wild Things Are.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Horrorathon Day 5: DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE (Lamberto Bava, 1988)

After recently watching A Blade in the Dark and Delirium: Photos of Gioia, both directed by Lamberto Bava, his Dinner With a Vampire plays like a toned down kitsch-fest. Whereas his others were much meaner yet steeped in the usual European gender deconstruction (when in doubt, guess a cross-dressing brother/friend with a lifelong crush on the final girl) his vampire tale is the kind of soft and playful stuff that, while it maintains one's interest, is essentially just an exercise in expressing the director's fondness for the horror film and the innocuous ones at that. A group of actors and models seeking fame are lured to a mansion upon the promise of fame and notoriety. Upon their arrival, they learn their host is actually a real vampire, intent on harvesting the nubiles for sustenance. No where in Dinner With a Vampire is there any sense of true danger lurking or that a vicious streak with ever start to build strength. That said, there's something to Bava's honest presentation of the material and it speaks to his love for the genre that he never allows his winking joy to become too self-serving. It's no show-stopper, but given the right circumstances, Dinner With a Vampire could conceivably provide a someone seeking a good bit of fun just that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Horrorathon Day 4: VAMPYR (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr may not be the landmark film F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is, but it is without question its equal, if not its superior. It’s nothing short of astonishing that Vampyr remains startling, unsettling and wholly engrossing 77 years after its release, though anyone acquainted with Dreyer’s work understands the spell he is capable of casting.

Vampyr was Dreyer’s first sound film, though it certainly maintains a silent aesthetic, given the visuals are the drive of the narrative, not the dialogue. In fact, there are likely less than two dozen lines in the whole movie. It’s not quite the expressionist mode that Nosferatu helped pioneer, but certainly everything is low key; even the outdoor scenes are dimmed, a technique which helps to desaturate the frame, just as a victim’s body is drained of blood. The plot involves a curious man in search of evidence of witchcraft and demonic possession; taken shelter at an inn, he begins to experience strange apparitions and cannot distinguish delusion from reality. The scant story is hardly of consequence; Dreyer primarily wants to take fantastical imagery and explore the surreality and capability of the mind. As usual with Dreyer, religious custom and its ambivalent impact is at or around the fringe of the film’s consciousness, perhaps less so here than in The Passion of Joan of Arc or Day of Wrath, but even when not as prominent, Dreyer’s ‘transcendent’ (as Paul Schrader would put it) qualities remain. To watch Vampyr is to sense that one is closer to understanding death than ever before. Dreyer isn’t interested in making any dialectic argument, nor should he. His images are often inexplicable, chaotic. He manages to lay a foundation for the rules of vampires, while also deeply tapping into a simultaneously cinematic and humanist struggle.

Horrorathon Day 3: THE BURNING (Tony Maylam, 1981)

Tony Maylam's The Burning may look like a standard slasher film, but it's quite remarkable as an exemplary early slasher and also notable for being the film which launched the careers of now notorious producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, it being their first foray into movies. Make-up effects icon Tom Savini, supposedly liked the script for The Burning so much that he turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to do it. It's also the very first film for Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Brian Backer, all of whom are now much more notable for their work elsewhere. But it's also a testament to the talent behind and in The Burning.

There's a great set-up; a group of young campers, fed-up with a bullying janitor, play a prank on him while he's asleep. The prank, naturally, goes horribly wrong and the janitor's body is engulfed in flames, wailing and riving for his life. Cut to five! years later, as his burned body has now healed enough to allow him to leave the hospital. One helpless prostitute later and old Cropsy (the janitor) is ready to seek his revenge on the camp that wronged him.

The Burning
is clearly influenced by Friday the 13th, but it's still a fairly early slasher in the original period. In fact, it was released but a week after Friday the 13th Part 2, and I suppose it does have more in common with the Friday films than, say, Sleepaway Camp, which is more of a 'whodunit' slasher with ample gender commentary. Yet The Burning has a distinct feeling unto itself. Of course, it's fun to see some now familiar faces in their first roles, but it's also a very finely crafted picture. The cinematography looks sharp and advances the narrative quite well. The character archetypes are certainly in place and it is, essentially, the fun of these movies. The Burning has fun with these early archetypes and is notable too for some excellently staged death scenes, particularly one involving a canoe. The Burning has been neglected in the past in favor of better known slashers, but it deserves to take its place on the midnight slate as quite a fun and well-made example of the genre.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Horrorathon Day 2: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (Robert Hiltzik, 1983)

This is the third time I’ve seen Robert Hiltzik’s original slasher and as a friend of mine voiced during its midnight screening, “This movie gets better every time I see it.” I would tend to concur, and it’s because of the film’s rewatchability that I would also tend to say that Sleepaway Camp is actually a good movie, rather than what’s become the college student’s standard response to unconventional acting styles and outrageous dialogue: “That is the best worst movie ever!” Certainly, Sleepaway Camp doesn’t fulfill what are generally accepted norms for realistic acting (see Angela’s stepmother) or seamless continuity (check out the mustache on a cop late in the film). But what it does have (or doesn’t have) is any sense of pretension about its material. The lines are funny because the actors don’t know they’re funny. At least, the characters don’t. One would be foolish to sell director Hiltzik short for his consistently sharp editing, which hilariously juxtaposes unnatural line delivery and reaction to create a truly bizarre, alternative world. It isn’t an accident that everything is played at this ludicrous pitch. And even if one can’t accept that the film knows what it’s doing, there’s no denying that Sleepaway Camp has the greatest last shot/final reveal in all of cinema. 1. Sleepaway Camp. 2. Citizen Kane. That’s right. I went there.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Horrorathon Day 1: GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

My intent this month, and it's something I've been wanting to do for a few years now, is to watch one horror movie each day, for the entire month. Then, on the next to last day watch 2. On the 31st, do four. So that's 35 movies in 31 days, all of which I plan to do write ups for. I wouldn't want to spoil the line-up before-hand, but expect updates daily. Thus 1.

What better way to start a horror lineup than with a 35mm print of Ghostbusters? It belongs to that pantheon of untouchable eighties movies like Back to the Future, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Robocop. They're so permanently etched into the unconscious of the culture, that it's hard to fathom someone actually created them. It'd be easier to believe that, like the earth, they are just here and sprung from relative nothingness.

Of course this isn't the least bit true, but it's a testament to the film itself that it takes on such a demeanor. All of the films mentioned above have incredibly unique plots (at least in terms of specificity) as well as the cast and director to make them so immovable. In the case of Ghostbusters, it is a vast array of things; there's certainly the one liners and visual uniqueness (a 100 foot 'Stay Puft' marshmellow man immediately comes to mind), but it is in the humane and playful nature of the character's that it carries the most resonance. This is, arguable, Bill Murray's finest comedic performance. Yes, Caddyshack and Stripes deserve mention, but here his comedy is so pungent and, in some ways, the most effortless of his performances. Here is the rare film where the actor really does make the difference. The material is stripped of didacticism; like the most fondly remembered films of the 80's, it is the comrodery of a few friends, rather than the individual, that accomplishes societal restoration. Perhaps modern cinema would do well to take a few notes (if not all of them) from Ghostbusters, especially in such a politically divisive era. The fun comes from the brotherhood and the comraderie of the characters; their actions certainly play a role, but what makes this film and those of its ilk possess such a gravitational pull is their underlying goodness, their sense of humanity.