Saturday, June 27, 2015

Show and Tell: Brad Pitt Ruined World War Z Like A Big Ruiner

I'd like to start this discussion off by reiterating that I am a huge fan of The Faculty of Horror.  I've already mentioned in a previous post that they are one of my favorite podcasts and that they bring an intelligence to horror that is a rare find in the genre.  I'm always excited for their next episode, and I've been introduced to some really great horror movies because of them.

That being said, I am so fucking mad at them for making me watch World War Z.  This was a movie that I have actively avoided ever since I heard that Brad Pitt's Plan B production company had optioned Max Brooks' novel.  In the novel World War Z, Brooks took the zombie story and made something truly new and exciting.  This wasn't the standard "group of people fortify themselves to fend off the zombie horde" story arc that Romero invented and from which many others borrowed.  This was essentially a faux history book that chronicled Earth's descent into and fight out of the zombie apocalypse.  In order to do the book justice, I pictured a Ken Burns-esque documentary that would interweave interviews and narration over "footage" of the war.  I'd watch that kind of an adaptation even if it were 109 hours long just like all of the other Ken Burns documentaries.

Unfortunately, rather than a novel twist on the zombie genre, what we get from Plan B is a neutered, PG-13 rated bore that tosses aside almost everything about what made the book so fascinating.  Rather than introducing a cast of diverse, complex characters that help piece together the puzzle with their own small part of the narrative, we get Brad Pitt playing Jerry Lane, a character who isn't even in the goddamn book.  As Lane travels the globe in search for a cure to the zombie plague, most of the other characters spend an average of 4 minutes on screen before dying and leaving us to look at Jerry's stupid fucking hair by ourselves again.

To help understand what went wrong with the production of World War Z, Faculty of Horror linked to a story by Vanity Fair about the delays, budget problems, and on-set conflicts that plagued the movie.  Rather than put things in perspective and let me cut the movie some slack, this story only highlighted why Plan B should never have touched the movie in the first place.  My mind shorted out and went to white noise after reading the quote from producer Ian Bryce, who said of the movie's ambitions,  "It’s a zombie movie.  They go around and bite people.”  For me, that quote encapsulates why World War Z was wasted on Plan B.

I think part of what also bothers me so much about this movie is that Brad Pitt has been part of some truly great stuff in the past.  Se7en is, of course, a classic.  Fight Club, while not horror, is dark and fascinating to watch.  And in both of these movies, Pitt's contributions were a large part of why I enjoyed them.  So the fact that he took World War Z in the direction he did is all the more infuriating.

When asked why he took the movie in the direction that he did, Pitt explained that he wanted to make a zombie movie that his kids could watch.  I won't begrudge him that notion, but World War Z was not the material with which to make such a movie.  In fact, I'll take that a step further and offer a perfect alternative:  Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin series.  Rot and Ruin is a quadrilogy of Young Adult novels about a group of teenagers struggling and fighting in the years following a world-wide zombie plague.  It's really strong work with a story structure much better-suited for straight-forward film adaptation.  And I'm sure Pitt could have found a way to cram himself into a role.

One relief for me is that the Faculty of Horror may have hated this movie even more than I did.  Listening to them absolutely eviscerate it for the better part of thirty minutes reassured me of their taste in movies, and I can appreciate essentially being trolled for the sake of a good discussion.  In fact, some of the most memorable discussions I've ever had were about movies I hated rather than those that I loved.  Plus, they're making it up to me big time with their next episode, which will focus on Hellraiser and Hellraiser II.  As you may know, I have a slight affinity for this franchise.

Aside from a big pile of zombie failure, I had a chance to delve into a few horror movies that I'd been meaning to see while my wife was out of town with her boyfriend at a conference.  My experience with giallo movies is fairly limited, so I watched Dario Argento's Inferno, the second in his "Three Sisters" trilogy.  I had a pretty good time watching it, looking out for the giallo staples such as the black-gloved killer, who of course made an appearance.  One thing that I'm curious about, however, is what Argento's budget was for pink light bulbs.  Everything in this movie seemed to have a pink back drop, and I'd be interested to know if this is another staple of giallo in general or if this is specific to Argento.

Also on the docket for me last week was a movie I've wanted to see ever since Rue Morgue magazine did a piece on a while back, Motel Hell.  Made by Kevin Connor in 1980, Motel Hell features brother and sister duo Vincent and Ida Smith (Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons), who run Motel Hell while also making renowned meats, which, as you may have guessed, are made from wayward travelers that the Smiths capture, imprison in a patch of farm in order to tenderize the meat, and then slaughter and butcher.  All of this is depicted very tongue-in-cheek, and it's actually a lot of fun to watch.  Nancy Parsons is fantastic as Ida, and it was fun seeing her break character from her other famous role, Beulah Balbricker from Porky's.  Plus, has anyone else who's seen this movie ever noticed that one of the unfortunate travelers to be turned into jerky is none other than Cliff Claven himself, John Ratzenberger?  If not, next time you watch take notice of the drummer from the punk metal band that the Smith's capture.

Last up was another horror comedy, this one a bit more recent, called Zombeavers.  Made in 2014 by Jordan Rubin, I can say that you'll probably know if you're going to like this movie within the first 5 minutes, as the movie opens with two toxic waste disposal workers played by Bill Burr and John Mayer.  Yes, that John Mayer.  Needless to say, this movie winks at the camera so many times they may as well just all be keeping one eye closed.  But it was also pretty fun.  There is plenty of gore and silliness to fill a pretty short running time of 85 minutes, and they even throw a curve ball as I would have never guessed the identity of the Final Girl going by the standards set up in most other horror flicks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sometimes They Get It Right: 7 Remakes That Don't Make Me Want To Vomit

Those that follow me on Twitter are probably aware of the fact that A) they are remaking Big Trouble in Little China and B) I'm not terribly happy about it.  We all know that remakes are often shameless cash grabs where production companies take a known entity and rearrange it into a bland concoction of horsehit.  And the worst part is that they'll usually make a few bucks.  They'd have to if they're going to keep doing this crap right?

So needless to say, I don't have high hopes for a remake of what might be my favorite movie of all time.  The one saving grace is that Dwayne Johnson has been cast as Jack Burton, and if someone can pull off playing the bumbling, arrogant (but likeable) asshole, it's The Rock.  So in order to keep myself from going too crazy, I've been thinking about remakes that didn't shit all over the originals and, in the rarest of cases, may have even improved on the original.  Here's what I was able to come up with, in no particular order.

The Thing

 Made in 1982 by John Carpenter, The Thing is a remake of the 1951 The Thing from Another World.  Admittedly, I have not seen the original movie, but I think it's safe to say that these are very different films.  I'd find it hard to believe that any movie from the fifties is anywhere near as gory as Carpenter's take.  This flick set the bar for freaky body horror, and it boasts a great cast in Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilfred Brimley, and an ensemble of other character actors who make this more than just cheesy B-Movie science fiction.

The Fly

Based on the 1958 Vincent Price classic (which I also haven't seen), director David Cronenberg takes a very goofy concept and turns it into a very somber look at a man's mental and physical deterioration.  And again, as with The Thing, The Fly takes the gore to a new level.  Watching Jeff Goldblum's slow, agonizing transformation is both horrific as well as impossible to turn away from.  By the end of the movie, Goldblum has turned into an unrecognizable mess of a creature that terrifies us, sickens us, and, perhaps most unbelievably, still allows us to sympathize with it.  Not a bad feat for a remake.


So I'm starting to notice a trend for remakes that I like.  It helps a great deal if I haven't seen the original.  This one is a 2012 remake directed by Frank Khalfoun and based on a 1980 low-budget slasher.  The angle (or gimmick if you're being cynical) used by the remake is that it's almost entirely shot from the point of view of the killer, who is primarily only seen in reflections.  Oh, and did I mention that the killer is Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood?  Wood is a self-professed horror fanatic, and we've already seen him play a psycho as Kevin in Sin City, so I suppose this shouldn't be too much of a stretch.  In Maniac, we get a much deeper look into Wood's madness than we did in his Sin City character, as we delve first-person into how and why his wires are crossed.  And damn are they ever crossed.  This is a very brutal movie, as Wood kills a variety of people in a variety of ways.  And while he does get his in the end, it's definitely not what you'd call a happy ending.  

Dawn of the Dead

OK, so here's one where' I've seen the original and the remake, and I definitely enjoy both versions.  While the original 1978 George Romero classic relies heavily on focusing a satirical lens on the U.S. as a consumer culture, the 2004 Zach Snyder remake is much more a straight-forward zombie flick.  And that's the reason that I think it works so well.  Snyder clearly knows and respects the source material, as there are clearly nods to the original movie.  But Snyder isn't necessarily trying to make a grand statement about society, but rather sprinkles in some commentary among heavy scares and gore.  It's much more fast-paced than the original, especially in terms of the zombies.  I know there are a lot of people who hate the idea of zombies that run, but I honestly don't give a shit.  Shuffling zombies are scary, and running zombies are scary.

Fright Night

This 2011 Craig Gillespie remake of a 1985 Tom Holland movie is not a masterpiece.  Hell, the original wasn't a masterpiece by any means, either.  It was campy silliness, and that's exactly what the remake brings to the table.  The reason that it works is that it knows how ridiculous it is.  And I'll be honest, Colin Farrell nails his turn as Jerry.  I love Chris Sarandon's version (and love his cameo in the remake), but Farrell really gets the smug nature of the character.  Jerry's not just an evil vampire.  He's also a smarmy asshole, and Farrell plays it to perfection.  Just watch him toss off a casual "Hey, guy" to Anton Yelchin's Charley and tell me he's not relishing the chance to go full douchebag.

Evil Dead

I know there are many who think this is one of the ultimate examples of a cash-grab shitting all over a beloved franchise, but I actually dug it. Director Fede Alvarez took the basic staples from Sam Raimi's 1981 classic: an isolated cabin in the woods, demonic possession due to the Necronomicon, and heavy gore.  He then took those ingredients and added some of his own.  In this case, there is no equivalent of Ash.  And that was probably for the best, because good luck ever finding someone who is going to touch Bruce Campbell's performance.  So Alvarez made the Final Guy a more traditional Final Girl in Jane Levy.  The twist that I enjoyed, however, is that as the first person possessed in the movie, she spends most of the running time as the primary antagonist.  As with the Dawn of the Dead remake, there are definitely nods to iconic moments from the original, but it tries to do it's own thing...or at least as much as a remake can possibly "do its own thing."  I'll admit this movie didn't break the walls down or anything, but it was pretty damn entertaining.

Wolf Man

This 2010, Joe Johnston-helmed remake of the classic 1941 Universal Studios monster movie is probably the most fun of all the movies on this list.  Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Hugo Weaving are all slumming it and clearly having a lot of fun doing so.  Hopkins in particular spends most of the movie with a maniacal smile that I'm not sure was part of the script.  This is the movie equivalent of going to a haunted house ride at the local carnival.  It's silly, low-rent stupidity, it was put together in slap-dash fashion, and it will put a smile on your face every time.  It's one of those movies that's very gory, yet somehow ridiculous enough to not be scary.  Which in this case is actually a plus, because even non-horror fans like my wife will like it.  That's why this is an annual tradition at our house every Halloween.

So, judging by the list above, it seems there are three primary factors in doing a remake of a movie that won't drive me fucking nuts:
  1. Take the basics of the source material and do something new or creative with it.  Otherwise, why bother making the damn thing in the first place? If you're not going to bother doing that...
  2. At least have fun making it.  With me, you'll get away with a lot if it seems like you enjoyed yourself in the process.  If you're not going to do items 1 or 2...
  3. Just hope I haven't seen the original.  I'll be less likely to pick something apart if I don't have any knowledge or concern for the source material.
All this being said, I'm still pretty sure that a Big Trouble in Little China remake will suck.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hey, You! Let Me Cheat Off You For My Next Book Report.

I'm looking for ideas for my next Book Report and I could use your help.  Do you have a piece of horror that you'd like to find more about?  If so, let me know!  It can be a movie, TV show, a book, or anything horror-related about which you'd like some in-depth history and discussion.  Send ideas to me via Twitter at @eviltaylorhicks or email me at between now and June 15th.

On June 15th, I'll take five of the nominated ideas and post a poll for you all to vote on.  The topic with the most votes by June 30th will be the subject of my next Book Report.  So come my work for me!