I’ve never been a huge fan of slasher films. I certainly enjoy other types of horror films, but slashers have never really been particularly fulfilling to me. While John Carpenter’s Halloween is a masterclass in dramatic tension, and Rob Zombie’s remake was an interesting-yet-trashy exploration of a killer, neither one did anything to make me want to see sequels. The same can also be said for the original Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I think it’s because most slasher films tend to be very surface-level affairs that are constructed wholly for a visceral exploitative punch, and have very little to offer in the way of character development or thematic depth. And that’s just the good ones. Most other slasher films seem to be soulless, cheap cash-grabs that mindlessly replicate a simple formula while being fully bereft of the craft that made their predecessors successful in the first place.
This is where Scream comes in. Where other slasher films left me entertained but usually unfulfilled, Scream provided many elements that I prize in films. With interesting protagonists, strong thematic undertones and legitimate mystery and stakes, Scream is my favorite slasher film by a long shot.
I’ve been aware of Fred Dekker as a person for awhile now. I know that he made some cult horror movies in the ‘80s, directed an awful Robocop film, and worked with Shane Black a bit. Up until Sunday afternoon I hadn’t seen any of his work, and I wasn’t sure how much of the enthusiasm for his movies was based in the Nostalgia Wave. But then I had myself a double-feature of Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad, and my perspective changed dramatically. I now see Fred Dekker as one of the great unsung filmmakers of the 1980s, and I see his 20+ years of inactivity as a terrible waste of a talent that seems to have been ahead of his time.
The other day I argued that we need to pay more attention to small-scale films that are mostly relegated to digital distribution. One movie I namechecked in that call to action was the New Zealand horror film Housebound, which is available on iTunes but doesn’t seem to be playing in any theaters, at least in New York. Having shot my mouth off, I felt that I should put my money where my mouth is (a staggering sum of $5) and check the movie out, having been curious about it since it played at SXSW this past spring. What I discovered was a cleverly crafted and tricky horror film, one that constantly changes your perception of the story as it goes along and mixes in some desert-dry humor as a bonus.
It’s been almost a year since I got my first pet, an older cat named Sam. I’ve never had a great relationship with or passion for animals, and only became comfortable with them at all through years of interacting with my extended family’s pets. But after having my cat for over 9 months, I can really appreciate firsthand how a pet can work their way into your heart whether you’re expecting it or not. So when I watch a movie where thugs needlessly kill a man’s cute puppy and and then spend the whole story dismissing it as “just a dog”, I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in the story that followed. Of course having a ton of well-executed ultraviolence mixed in doesn’t hurt either… but damn that puppy was cute.
In the year-plus that I’ve been writing this blog, my focus has been primarily on storytelling craft, and how certain films and filmmakers do it well. Very rarely do I try to comment on the nature of the film industry itself, though not because of a lack of interest or knowledge. I’ve always felt that it wasn’t essential to the main goal of the blog, or to people’s understanding of the art form. That being said, in recent days I’ve felt compelled to draw attention to one area of the industry that is turning into a major concern, which plays a major role in how we consume our movies: the series of tubes known as the Internet, and Hollywood’s selective ignorance of it.
While Michael Keaton may be best known for his time as the Caped Crusader, that is far from the only thing he should be remembered for. His performances in Beetlejuice, Jackie Brown, The Other Guys, and Game 6, not to mention hilarious guest spots on Frasier and 30 Rock and many other roles, all showcase a sharp yet malleable performer, and one that seemed content to walk away from superstardom to pursue more ambiguous artistic aspirations. This seeming avoidance of the traditional leading man spotlight has made Keaton an engaging and unpredictable actor, but has also kept that famous superhero as his most recognizable role. The central question that Birdman raises is whether the big, broad appeal of media celebrity is better or worse than the deeper, yet potentially insignificant impact of “true art”. It’s a compelling question, and one that is brilliantly personified by Keaton, but one that is almost drowned out by Alejandro G. Inarritu and company’s blunt pretentiousness.
The title may sound snarky, but as I’ve made clear in the past I have a great affection for superhero films, regardless what acclaimed filmmakers might think of them. Anyone with half a brain can tell that superheroes are likely to be a permanent staple of Hollywood filmmaking, and that this is their boom period, the same boom that noirs and westerns were going through between the ‘30s and ‘50s. But with so much more money being poured into each production, and with the big buzz-word(s) in Hollywood right now being “shared universe”, the long-term roadmaps for these films are tantamount. With the major announcements being made this week, we now have a (slightly) clearer picture of what to expect in the coming years from these most expensive of motion pictures. So I figured I’d talk about it because I’ve been lacking in topics to rant about lately and this I could do in my sleep.