Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Horror: Movie Marathon Report, a look-back review of SPLICE, and more!

Once again, it's almost Halloween, and already it's been an October filled with shocks, scares, tricks, and treats. It's been a busy / stressful week, but somewhere in there I managed to do some really fun stuff. I saw a special, 25th anniversary screening of BACK TO THE FUTURE here in Burbank, complete with remastered picture and sound, and a crowd of hardcore fans that made the experience that much more memorable. I ended up going somewhat last minute, and was a little reluctant due to feeling somewhat under the weather. But man, it was an awesome moviegoing experience - they don't make 'em like that anymore, that's for sure. The next night, I once again participated in something that's sort of become tradition come Halloween time - THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS at Disney's El Capitan theater in Hollywood. This year, the film got a "4D" upgrade, meaning that in addition the 3D upgrade from a few years back, we got spooky light-show displays, audience prompts, interactive sections, and elaborate stage sets accompanying the showing of the film. Pretty awesome, and I think there are few better ways to get into the proper Halloween spirit that a showing of TNBC.

Of course, one tradition that has remained strong for the last several years is the annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon. Last weekend, some intrepid film fans once again gathered 'round the Jack O' Lantern to partake in the yearly frightfest, and this year's lineup of horror movies proved particularly - and disturbingly - entertaining.

We opened this year's festivities with an episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER, "The Screaming Woman." In honor of the sci-fi icon's recent 90th birthday, I thought it was only appropriate to kick off this year's Marathon with a vintage episode of his 80's-era TV series. Okay, so the episode itself was only so-so (and hampered by a serious case of only-in-the-80's cheesiness), but hey, you've got to love the series' awesome intro featuring Bradbury himself pontificating on where he gets his ideas for his stories of the fantastic. Plus, the episode (a spin on the classic "Telltale Heart" type of horror story) features a (very) young Drew Barrymore in the lead role - kind of cool.

Anyways, that was the teaser to sort of ease into things (the "opening scaremonies," if you will). Once everyone had arrived and settled, the real fun began. And by that I mean ... we sat down to witness the horror and wonder and mystery that is ... TROLL 2.

Yes my friends, TROLL 2 is truly the "best, worst movie." As the recent documentary about its making posits, Troll 2 is the epitomy of the "so bad it's good" school of filmmaking. Make no mistake though, Troll 2 is very, very bad. It's not a B-movie - that would imply it had some sort of merit as a genre film. No, Troll 2 is so horrendous, so random, so poorly written and acted that it ends up being absolutely hilarious. It doesn't even have trolls! It has goblins! And they live in a backwoods town called Nilbog, which is, if you didn't know, "goblin" spelled backwards. Troll 2 is truly a landmark of anti-goodness. It almost feels like something that was created by an eight year old and then turned into a movie. But knowing that it was made by adults who had every intention of crafting a legitimate horror film ... well, the mind boggles. Suffice it to say, Troll 2 was the perfect way to kick off this year's Marathon. The movie was stopped, rewound, and started again multiple times - it was just that unbelievably insane. I mean, it's actually hard to pick one moment that stands out as the movie's most memorably terrible. It could be the line "they ate him, and now they're gonna eat me too!". It could be the corn-on-the-cob make out scene (yep ...). It could be that the big, goblin-destroying deux ex machina is (wait for it) a double-decker bologna sandwich ('nuff said). All I know is, Troll 2 is definitely up there in the cannon of all-time bad movies. Yikes.

Now, as if we weren't disturbed enough by the inexplicable weirdness of Troll 2, the next film in the lineup, SPLICE, proved itself to be far stranger and more out-there than I could have imagined. Since this is a fairly recent movie from earlier in 2010, one that I missed out on in theaters, I'm going to give it a full review below. Scroll down for my take on what was, indeed, one crazy-ass sci-fi film.

Finally, our third and final movie in the marathon was last year's retro-80's throwback, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. I caught this one on HDNET Movies last year around this time, and was semi-blown-away by the chops of writer/director Ty West. Not only does this movie look and feel like it's some lost horror-movie treasure from the early 80's, but it's also scary as hell. I've talked before about this movie here on the blog, so I won't go into too much detail. But I love the pacing and storytelling of the filSPLICEm - it's one of those rare movies that builds and builds and then hits you with a horrific punch to the gut during its insane and shocking final act. Good stuff.

SPLICE Review:

- There are some movies that play it safe, and then there are others that go all-out, balls-to-the-wall. If nothing else, you've got to give SPLICE credit for daring to be utterly and completely bat$#%& crazy. Considering that this was a mainstream film given a wide theatrical release earlier this year, I can only imagine that it left a trail of shocked, wide-eyed moviegoers in its wake. And yet, somehow, I still didn't realize the full extent of Splice's insanity months after its release. I hadn't heard about just how nutty it gets. I hadn't heard that it is, most likely, a cult classic in the making. I hadn't heard about the out-there directions that the plot takes, directions that make you smile, squirm, and shudder in revulsion. There might be an argument to be made that this is, in fact, not a good movie. There's also an argument -a valid one, I think - that this is a pretty excellent movie. But one thing's for sure ... Splice is hardcore.

As for me, I really dug this one, even if it requires a pretty substantial suspension of disbelief. It just had that horror-tinged sci-fi feel of a David Cronenberg movie like The Fly. In other words, the movie isn't content to play it safe, and very deliberately sets out to shock you. Does that mean that certain moments might come off, in a certain context, as unintentionally funny / cheesy? Sure, maybe. I can easily image a crowd in a large theater snickering at parts of this film, if only because there are scenes so crazy and awkward that laughter might be the only sensible response. But you know what? Watching Splice with a small group of friends, I was into it. Over the top? Yes. Entertaining / disturbing / appreciably different? Also yes.

SPLICE tells the story of two scientists - Clive and Elsa - a married couple who work at the cutting edge of genetic engineering. Their highest profile project up to this point has been creating a pair of mixed-DNA creatures that are hybrids of multiple animal genes. But, Elsa is restless. Despite the protests of Clive, she presses forward with her desire to take the next step into the realm of (mad) science - she takes the basic premise of she and Clive's earlier work, but adds human DNA to the mix as well. Eventually, Clive serves as a willing if reluctant co-conspirator (the work is conducted in secret, as it'd be highly frowned upon to say the least). But even he is shocked by the creature that he and his wife end up bringing into existence. At first, the being - named Dren - looks like some sort of upright-walking mouse. But as its human genes become more dominant, it morphs into an ethereal patchwork-doll-Frankenstein monster that is highly intelligent and highly emotional - part human, part beast, and continually evolving via a startling series of metamorphoses.

At the heart of the film is the semi-broken relationship between Clive and Elsa, as, really, Dren's introduction into their lives ends up bringing to light all of the long-simmering issues between them. And both lead actors - Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley - are pretty effective here. Brody has been the victim of having been miscast in a lot of his recent films (Predators, anyone?), but his brooding, quirky persona is a good match for the character he plays here - sort of a spiritual successor to Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. Polley is similarly good ... she has to maintain a serious tone through a number of pretty crazy developments, and does a nice job of keeping things (relatively) grounded and serious. She definitely gives Elsa a sense of emotional depth - again, even in the face of a pretty out-there script - that lesser actresses probably wouldn't have been able to manage. I should also mention Delphine Chanéac, who plays the fully-grown and most human version of Dren. This is one of those roles that could have been totally absurd in the wrong hands, but Delphine pulls it off. She brings an otherworldly feel to Dren that somehow makes this freak-of-nature creature seem believable and real.

I do think the movie loses a little credibilty in its final act, when it morphs from sci-fi / horror into action / horror. Things become so over the top that, at some point, it's hard to take the movie as seriously as you might have initially. The ending in particular is a shocker - and I think even the biggest defender of Splice is going to have a hard time fully rationalizing the narrative justification for the movie's closing moments. I mean, I liked the movie a lot, but the ending did seem to have the feel of "shocking for the sake of being shocking."

Overall though, I admire this movie. You don't see a lot of genuinely thought-provoking sci-fi movies like this one anymore. And you don't see many movies that are so anti-formulaic. If nothing else, this is one to get you talking, to make you day to your friends "wow, did you *see* that. Suffice it to say, at the annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a couple of the film's craziest scenes were rewound and rewatched, because it took multiple viewings for it to sink in that yes, they really did just go there. Never a bad quality for a sci-fi / horror movie to have.

My Grade: B+

So yes, another successful Marathon, and overall, the extended Halloween celebration this year had been a lot of fun. From Rob Zombie to Knott's Scary Farm, from Halloween Horror Nights to the annual Horror Movie Marathon, I would definitely call this a superlatively spooky Shocktober.

More to come ...

(And no, there's no particular reason for the picture of Elvira accompanying this post, except that, well, who doesn't love the Mistress of the Dark?)

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