Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man. Which, you know, whatever. But long before that, he directed The Evil Dead--which remains to this day one of the finest horror films ever shot. (100%!)

Now he's at the helm for the well-titled Drag Me to Hell, starring Professional Good Actress Alison Lohman and Inexplicably Likeable Justin Long.

I don't get it!

As I'm sure you're all aware, genuine American horror cinema has been in the toilet for approximately 257 years. The Descent, 28 Days Later, Let the Right One In, [REC] -- for my money the best horror films of the decade -- are all foreign.

This bothers me, but not as an American; our film industry is beyond unsinkable. Instead, it irks me as a genuine fan of film. I personally am more than willing to go out of my way for a quality horror film. But the average American is not. The average American, if he or she is in the mood for a horror film, will simply go to the nearest theater and watch whatever is playing. More often than not, this happens to be House of Wax or Cabin Fever or The Hills Have Eyes 4: Back 2 da Hillz.

This is what drives me crazy. These poor people have been force-fed schlock hackery for their entire lives, or, if they're old people, they probably never saw The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby anyway. The vast majority of Americans have never experienced exceptional horror filmmaking.

I wouldn't feel so strongly if American comedy or drama or action cinema were so weak, because, in my opinion, horror is by far the hardest genre to get right. Just look at this year's Oscars--everyone agrees The Reader was a pile or garbage, but it still landed the most prestigious acting award in the business for its leading lady. Slumdog Millionaire, a film that deserves heaps of praise simply for the logistical nightmare that must have been its production, won Best Picture despite a plot that relied exclusively on the audience's continuous suspension of disbelief.

Professional wrestling provides a good parallel. In wrestling, there are "faces" and "heels." Faces are the old-fashioned Gary Cooper good guys. They support the troops, they respect women, they play by the rules. Heels, on the other hand, are Snidely Whiplashes on steroids (literally). They're rude, they disrespect the crowd, and they cheat. Who gets the tribute DVD's? Who sells the action figures and the T-shirts? Who gets to hear the roar of approval from the crowd? Most importantly, who gets to win every night? Only the faces. The heels get booed and spit on, with popcorn and jeers flying at them from every direction on a nightly basis. I'd like to remind everyone that wrestling is fake; none of the "heels" are in fact villainous men. They're simply professional actor/athletes who have been assigned to play a role, and accept the repercussions that come as part of playing said role. In the case of the heel, he gets no glory, he gets no title belt, and he doesn't even get the satisfaction of a win. The heel is the most underrated man in wrestling. It's why I root for heels and heels only. Because they deserve it. They're working ten times harder than their opponent. The horror movie is the heel of the film industry. The studios say it's not accessible, it's not for kids or families, we can't afford to throw our support behind it or the revenue stream will run dry. So they end up greenlighting one of two kinds of horror movie: the PG-13 snoozefest with cheap jumps for the kiddies or the Eli Roth torture porn with nary a consideration for plot or character development for the bloodthirsty 17-to-34 year old white guys who, for whatever reason, love watching people get mutilated.

I'm not saying it's easy to make a drama film, but I am saying it's a lot easier to convince people that it's good and worthy of their money. In 81 years, only one "horror" film has won Best Picture (The Silence of the Lambs), and it was more psychological thriller than anything else. Horror is, for whatever reason, considered a niche genre of film.

I'm not asking Raimi to reinvent the horror film. I'm not asking him to resurrect American horror. I'm not even asking him to recapture the terror he brought in The Evil Dead, because I know that would be impossible. All I'm asking for is a step in the right direction.

Promising? Or same old hat? YOU DECIDE.

For what it's worth, a review is already up at who declares the movie to be fantastic. That's all well and good, but B-D hands out positive reviews like it's going out of style. Not as egregiously as Ain't It Cool News, but still. This is the same website that gave the new Friday the 13th four out of five skulls.

Personally, I don't think the trailer inspires much confidence; it looks formulaic at best and atrociously boring at worst. Most notably, the budget looks too high. Raimi's magnum opus made its impact through extreme claustrophobia, novel lighting and framing techniques, and perhaps the best use of silence ever. You will never be more afraid of a movie than when you're watching Evil Dead and the sound cuts out intentionally just as Ash reaches for the mirror. Still, I will attempt to withhold judgement until the MPAA delivers a rating: if it's R, I'm in. If it's PG-13, it's The Grudge 3.

BEE TEE DUBS: Every single person in the world needs to see [REC], from Barcelona. It is the coolest thing in the world and it's not hard to track down. As a bonus, the Spanish in the movie is really easy to understand. If you're like me, and all of your Spanish professors have been from Spain, you should watch this with a bunch of friends so you can tell them what's going on and feel smart.

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