Thursday, June 07, 2007

SLIFR FORUM: THE FUTURE OF HORROR?

In the past week, no less august a publication than the Los Angeles Times has joined in, in their own ambivalent manner, of course, with the anticipatory parade of publicity paving the way for this weekend’s release of Eli Roth’s envelope-pushing sequel to his own button-pushing horror movie, Hostel. Patrick Goldstein spends several column inches wringing his hands over whether the deliberately revolting and disturbing advertising campaign created for Hostel Part II is exploitation or art. (Decide for yourself.)

Goldstein makes some interesting observations near the end of the piece regarding our eagerness to geek out on charnel fare like Roth’s movie, while government censorship and our own tendencies to avoid grim reality keeps us from more important, long looks at real-life horrors happening in Iraq and other devastated parts of the world:

“Art can often make us squeamish, whether it's high-minded social commentary or squishy horror porn. What I find depressing is that while Hostel: Part II will play at multiplexes everywhere, the disturbing images of carnage in Iraq are largely hidden away from view, in part because the Defense Department refuses to allow them to be shown, in part because the public acts outraged whenever the media put them on display.”

This is the Los Angeles Times, however. The fact that you’ll see that aesthetically compelling ad featuring Heather Matarazzo hanging upside down while grimacing right there in the Times movie pages alongside ads for Shrek the Third is given its token nod of ambivalence. And the gist of Goldstein’s piece is the kind of have-it-both-ways attitude that has become all too frequent in the paper’s movie coverage— yes, those posters are sickly beautiful, and we know there’s gonna be a lot of interest in this movie, so we have to give the public what it wants by covering it, but you should know we don’t approve, and by the way, aren’t you kinda sick for being interested in it?

The obligatory Sunday feature on Eli Roth was a much more straightforward, easily digestible puff job designed to prop up the back story of this up and coming bad boy of horror. His parents—Father was a psychiatrist, Mother a well-regarded painter—often took him to see horror films without much worry that their son would become deranged as a result. There’s the story of little Eli at his bar mitzvah being sawed in half by a nervous magician who was horrified when the little imp began screaming as though the blade was actually ripping into him. (See where it all comes from?!) And the article gives Roth plenty of space to quote the usual stuff about social commentary regarding his own movies as well as classics from the likes of George A. Romero. “People were killed and turned into zombies and just by habit went to the mall and (looked) for living things to consume,” says Roth of Dawn of the Dead (1978). “It was about American consumption and dehumanizing effects of technology and corporate America.” Of his Hostel series, Roth says in the Sunday piece. “You look at the war, you look at 9/11, you look at Abu Ghraib, the things going on down at Guantanamo—these are real horrors and we are all scared. There’s no place left to scream in public. I think these films help people deal with the real world.” Even Roth’s dad, being a psychiatrist, gets a few words in on analyzing his son’s motives: “It’s as Plato said: ‘Bad men do what good men dream.’ My son puts his dreams on the movie screen.”

(And just for the record, the Times piece feels it's important we know that Roth, no ordinary horror geek he, was named “fittest director” by Men’s Fitness magazine. For a glimpse of Roth’s own self-image, however parodistically rendered, check out this Diggler-esque fantasia from New York magazine’s Web site.)

However disturbing they may or may not be as indicators of any kind of trend in horror films, I think the Saw films, particularly the last two installments, had some genuine daring in them as far as they were willing to acknowledge that there might be some sinister logic worth following behind Jigsaw’s moralistic nightmare scenarios. But I’ve yet to be impressed by anything from the Eli Roth oeuvre, with the giddy and ghastly exception of the hilarious Thanksgiving trailer he concocted recently for Grindhouse. Despite Peter Jackson’s endorsement, I found Cabin Fever as brainless and numbing as the ‘80s splatter opuses to which it was a deliberate throwback. And though I approached Hostel with dread, I did indeed think the first half was genuinely effective. Whether Roth mined suspense or a much less complex sensation of simple dread in the opening hour of the film, it worked—the audience knows, like we knew of Hitchcock’s bomb under the table, what was coming, and we squirmed like little guinea pigs in anticipation of the arrival of the gruesome sights and sounds to come. But once Hostel gets inside that darkened abattoir, all the fear drained out of the movie for me. There was no sick feeling in the pit of my stomach; just disappointment that after being so skillfully led to the bowels of hell, all there was inside was lots of yelling and bad makeup applications and an increasingly preposterous scenario of escape.


Those Hostel Part II posters are brilliantly demented, and they must account for whatever desire I have to see the movie—and I do, despite my dissatisfaction with Roth’s previous work, want to see it. But I question the implication of articles like those puff jobs in the Times and other entertainment vessels that seem to be so eager to bestow upon Roth the role of none-too-reluctant leader of an aggressive movement into a new age of, as David Edelstein would have it, torture porn, or in the Times’s own coinage, gorno. (Could you hear my eyes rolling on that one?) True, when no less an expert than Quentin Tarantino puts his name on your movie and dubs you “the future of horror,” who’s to be shocked when the entertainment press just blindly jumps on board and offers up no considered resistance to the idea? Personally-- and I’m speaking as a moviegoer, a critic and a fan of the horror genre—Roth’s own idea of what a horror movie should be seems a bit too limited for one who’s supposed to be the genre’s future. In the Times, during one of the many comments in which the director seems a little too pre-New Flesh Max Renn for comfort, Roth likens his audiences to ones who go for roller-coasters over merry-go-rounds. “If you’re going to see a movie like Cheaper by the Dozen, at the end you’re supposed to feel good,” Roth claims. “The point of a horror movie is you’re supposed to feel bad.”

The problem I have with that rather limited assessment is the problem I have with Hostel in general. Roth is eager to take into account and indulge the most ghastly elements and implications and garish displays of the horror genre. But by defining your aesthetic as being one intended solely to make the audience feel bad, I think he’s exposed himself as having a pretty narrow understanding of what has appealed to fans of the horror genre from Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera straight up through The Bride of Frankenstein, Cat People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, Tales from the Crypt, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. The universe of Hostel, after all, is a pretty narrow and humorless one. Where are the influences in Roth’s movies of emotion, humor, true empathy, cheeky satiric intent and, most of all, full-throttle craft that movies like the ones cited above, as well as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead pictures, Stuart Gordon’s Re-animator, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and Bad Taste, Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky and Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason have in spades? And Hostel’s self-serious relentlessness isn’t a ragged patch on something organic and vital and terrifying like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Neil Marshall’s The Descent, let alone the stylistic orgasms of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.

I remain open to the possibility that Hostel Part II might go to some unexpected places, and if it does, and they are places worth going in this context, I will be, I guess, grateful. But I really wonder, can someone who thinks the point of a horror movie is simply to make the audience feel terrible really be the future of horror? And if Eli Roth really is the future of horror, will it continue to be a genre worth following?

UPDATE 6/7/07 11:30 p.m.: The Lionsgate people must be in anticipatory cash-cow heaven right now. They've just successfully pulled the wool over about $6 million worth of ticketbuyers' eyes with the advertising on Bug (only about 2% of those ticketbuyers likely had any real sense that what they were paying to see wasn't the as-advertised post-Cronenebergian horror romp), and now they await the inevitable arterial spray of big money returns on this coming weekend's release of Hostel Part II. And as Damian and Cinebeats, among others, in the comments below have noted, there hasn't been any lack of conversation about the movie, either in the positive or the negative. If you desire a thorough updating, here's a list of links provided by Damian that should get you up to date on what will surely be the watercooler topic of conversation come Monday morning, once everybody's had a chance to actually see the movie:

Some have suggested that Roth's movies, like a lot of transgressive horror (and punk rock, and fashion), are really about "freaking out the squares." Consider Jeffrey Wells and David Poland officially freaked out.

The Reel Fanatic and Moviezzz are foaming a whole lot less at the mouth over exposure to Roth's latest contagion, but they seem concerned nonetheless.

Damian Arlyn has been thinking long and hard about the Roth phenomenon, and his conclusions aren't very pretty.

Unfortunately for the timing of my own discussion post (with further comment to come later this weekend once I've actually seen the movie myself), Damian seems kinda burnt out on the topic, but he's jumped in the fray below anyway. The same goes for Cinebeats-- she agrees with Damian that the topic may have already peaked in terms of fascination (SLIFR, behind the curve again!), but that's about all she agrees with. Cinebeats, perhaps one of the foremost authorities I know of when it comes to the horror/sci-fi genre-- that is, a woman with an open, intelligent mind who couldn't be in any way brushed off as a slavering fangirl-- is a big fan of Hostel an has a great post about the return to the genre of actress Edwige Fenech.

Cinebeats also points out another very smart man in the Hostel Part II camp-- Michael Guillen gushes about the movie at Twitch and links the movie up to its various giallo roots, giving Roth's newfound awareness of Italian horror the credit for the sequel's success. And D.K. Holm likes it too. Boy, does he ever!

Other positive takes on Roth can be found at The Bleeding Tree and from Harry Knowles.

Damian, thanks a ton for all the links and for making me aware of how much discussion has already gone on about Hostel Part II. My own late arrival stems not from a lack of interest-- as I said, even though I didn't much care for the first movie, the advertising and the awareness of a different narrative tack in the sequel makes me at least hope there might be something to chew on this time around. Really, I just didn't have much to say, not having seen the movie, until I read the two pieces in the Times, which spoke to concerns that I could legitimately express without firsthand experience with the new movie. That will hopefully come this weekend, at which point I hope that the discussion can start anew.

UPDATE 6/9/07 3:59 p.m.: Well, I bought my tickets for tonight's 9:45 Hostel Part II show at the Arclight in Hollywood, so I'll have something more than speculation and/or reaction to Roth's other movies to add to the discussion below very soon. In the meantime, here's the Shamus on five terrifying movie characters and Kim Morgan, gearing up for her own thoughts on Hostel Part II, with a couple of pre-show thoughts and a round-up of the good, the bad and the ugly reactions to Roth's opus.

UPDATE 6/12/07 9:54 a.m.: Well, the arguing rages on even, when the movie didn't do particularly well over the weekend, and here I am, ready to sit down and finally write about Hostel Part II. But for some reason, I am suddenly unable to access any Blogger-based sites, including my own, from any of the three computers I have at home. (I'm writing this at work.) So, until I get home tonight and can sit down in front of Microsoft Word and do a little writing, my thoughts will have to wait. If Blogger magically fixes itself and I can post tonight, I will. If not, I'll bring it in and post from here tomorrow morning.

Until then, here's a couple more essential links to the argument swirling around Roth's rumpus.

SLIFR friend and all-around great blogger and film aficionado Campaspe checks in and does not worry about being perceived as Crowtheresque in her negative reaction to the whole Eli Roth phenomenon. Her terrific piece is called "You Think I'm Hostile Now..." (and stick around for the comments!)

Neil Sarver has more to say (and to link to) at his blog The Bleeding Tree.

And Christopher Stangl has some of the most intelligent and passionate commentary you're likely to read anywhere, regarding not so much the movie, but the reactionary response to it, as capsulized by the term "torture porn." Many thanks to Chris for writing such a smart post which addresses, among other things, the assumption by a lot of folks who don't care for Hostel Part II, or horror movies in general, that there's something a little bit wrong with those of us who do. You'll find it at his great site, The Exploding Kinetoscope-- it's called "Critical Disconnect: The 120 Days of Hostel Part II".

Finally, if you're tired of Eli Roth altogether (and who isn't honestly, at this point?), Peet offers up an altogether more pleasant alternative topic of conversation. And he has pictures too! Suddenly I feel much better about the world.

60 comments:

David Lowery said...

"Where are the influences in Roth’s movies of emotion, humor, true empathy, cheeky satiric intent and, most of all, full-throttle craft that movies like the ones cited above...have in spades?"

I'd say that Cabin Fever has three of those five qualities all wrapped up (it's only missing emotion and empathy), and that's why I got suck a kick out of it.

Hostel, as you pointed out, managed intermittent moments of true dread, but for the most part fell quite short of actually being horrifying once the torture set in. I originally had no intention of seeing the sequel, but as the ad campaign progressed and I became aware of the plot, my curiosity got piqued. The idea that it follows two businessmen on the opposite side of the killing floor is really intriguing, and I look forward to seeing what Roth does with it. I don't have high hopes, but I'm open to being impressed.

Incidentally, I'll probably catch it this weekend with some friends somewhere in Hollywood. If you're free, you should come join us!

Damian said...

On the one hand, I am pleased to see you chiming in on the Eli Roth/Hostel II conversation, Dennis, because I am genuinely interested in what you have to say about it and I have little doubt that the ensuing discussion will be both interesting and thought-provoking (as well as having its fair share of impassioned opinions, emotional outbursts, snap-judgements and perhaps even name-calling).

On the other hand, there's a part of me that wishes this forum could've been started just a wee bit earlier because I've already read two long disussions on the subject (here and here), engaged in three separate conversations here, here and here, written my recent own post, read Dave Poland's attack of the film, read Harry Knowles' defense of it and I am, frankly, starting to grow a little weary of constantly saying (and hearing) the same arguments over and over again.

Personally speaking, I already decided a while back (shortly before the shooting at Virginia Tech as it turned out) that I won't be seeing Hostel II or any other Eli Roth movies any time soon (and I gave my reasons here), so if anyone is interested in hearing my thoughts about it, I might recommend that you check it out first. It's not that I don't want to participate in this forum because I actually do (especially since I couldn't really do so with the Howard Hawks one, given that I know so little about him) and I don't even really mind repeating my opinions over again, but I'm starting to feel more "reactive" than "pro-active" lately.

On significant topics like this, real, honest, thoughtful, civil, respectful, patient communication is very important if any sort of progress is gonna be made and sometimes I feel like people on both sides are talking past each other rather than with each other. If we want to take the time to really understand each other and fully comprehend where the other person is coming from, then maybe we should actually take the time to really listen and hear them out first. I'm willing to hear others and I hope they are willing to hear me, because I've already done a fair amount of thinking (and writing) about it.

Peet said...

Someone like Guillermo del Toro is a much better candidate for the future of horror, because he shows a deeper understanding of violence, fear, true empathy, archetypes and the power of metaphor.

Someone on the 24Lies forum remarked that the latest batch of torture porn marks a dubious shift in perspective. No longer are we strictly identifying with the victim, as in "old school" horror from the 70s and 80s--we're starting to adopt the viewpoint of the killer/torturer. In the case of Saw, it forces the victim to become the torturer. It's the difference between masochism and sadism. Such a sliding scale makes you wonder about the influence of first-person video games and all the abusive Internet porn out there. A can of worms, I tell ya.

As for my personal take on the matter: you've already seen it.

dave s said...

Dennis, I agree with you about Roth's past flicks and the Thanksgiving Day trailer.

The strongest quality that I think both Cabin Fever and Hostel Part I have in common is promise. I just hope that Roth fulfills that promise sometime soon... Maybe with Hostel Part II (he typed, hopefully).

I don't think that Roth is the future of horror films, but he'll be part of it. One of the great things about the genre is the way that it goes through so many different phases, sometimes going through two or three waves at the same time.

As for flicks like Hostel, I don't think they make us ignore the real-life horrors that are going on around us. I think they are a way for us to process them. Horror has always done that.

Bill said...

If Eli Roth is the future of horror, then horror has no future. And I say that as someone who doesn’t even dislike “Cabin Fever” or “Hostel”. Those movies are effective for what they are, and I actually think “Hostel” has a terrific premise. There are a lot of problems with horror these days, both in film and in literature, but lack of ambition is right near the top. Again, “Hostel” is a great idea, but Roth either doesn’t have the talent or the ambition to go very far with it. I agree with Dennis that when the violence comes, there’s a feeling of disappointment, not because the violence wasn’t hard enough (another problem with horror? The idea that gore equals horror) but because the violence was the only pay-off we were going to get. There was some hope offered by the scene with the American businessman in the locker room – and the idea that the sequel has more of this intrigues me – but ultimately “Hostel” was its premise, and nothing more.

Another problem is that, nowadays, it seems that “ambitious horror” is any horror movie that is also a social/political satire or allegory. I’m sorry, but that’s not ambitious. It’s certainly not unique, and I don’t think you could point to any horror film of this type and call the satire “subtle”. The satire is generally clumsy and often juvenile. Besides that, who says horror has to be allegorical for it to be smart, or worthwhile? And for Roth and certain critics who have claimed that “Hostel” functioned as some sort of American foreign policy critique…um, what? Because the two American characters are unpleasant and don’t know anything about the country they’re visiting? Well, okay, but if viewed that way, wouldn’t the movie ultimately support American intervention, seeing as how, you know, almost all of the non-Americans in the movie are sadistic murderers who have to be defeated by the unpleasant Americans? Or are we meant to be rooting for the murderers?

And then I look at many of the horror films fans of my generation hold up as classics: “Phantasm”. “The Last House on the Left”. “Friday the 13th”. I’m sorry, but these are very bad movies. They’re brainless, artless, and unoriginal. They survive on their violence, nudity and shock value, and that’s it. There are certainly better movies praised by those same fans, like “Dawn of the Dead”, “Halloween” (though I’m not a big fan of that one personally), “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and more recently “The Descent”. But all of these movies suffer from some pretty bad acting and writing that horror fans as a whole have decided to just accept as part of the deal. I mean, if they’re willing to regard “Phantasm” as a good movie, then what’s some clunky dialogue and sketchy acting in the first half of “The Descent”? No wonder that movie was so widely embraced. When that movie works, it shames almost the last two decades (or more) of horror movies. But a lot of the movie doesn’t work, or is slapdash, and horror fans just don’t seem to care.

No one seems interested in trying to make a film as amazing as “The Shining” or “The Exorcist” or as unique as the original “The Wicker Man” (it’s deeply flawed, I know). It seems the best we can hope for, apart from “The Descent”, is something like “Session 9”, an unambitious but truly effective ghost story. That’s fine, but how many people have seen it? Not as many people who have seen “The Devil’s Rejects”, which is so awesome because by the end you’re supposed to be rooting for the killers! Sure, that’s a morally repellent notion, but it gets people talking.

Sorry if this was rambling and disjointed and confrontational, but I do get a little angry when I see the direction horror is heading in. Oh, but I do agree that the idea of Del Toro as the future of horror fills me with hope. I love that guy.

Also, anybody here read much horror fiction? It’s not much more promising, but I’d be up for talking about it.

dave s said...

I am a del Toro fan as well, going back to Cronos. I did, however, read an interesting comment about him as a filmmaker in an interview with Alejandro Jodowswoky in Rue Morgue magazine. Jodowswoky commends del Toro, but adds that del Toro tends to see his villains and good guys in black and white terms, rather than in shades of grey. I think this is a good point.

bill said...

Well, Del Toro has freely admitted this himself, saying his characters are archetypes. I see no inherent problem with that, as long as you do it as well as he does.

There was something else I wanted to mention, because I think it might be sort of fun and/or interesting. You've heard Tarantino say that everybody is either a Beatles fan or an Elvis fan, and whichever one you are says a lot about you? Well, I've had that same idea about different eras of horror film. I think hardcore horror fans can be split into three groups: those who prefer the old Universal horror films, those who prefer the Val Lewton horror films, and those who prefer Hammer horror films. What these preferences might mean I have no idea, but, well, there it is. For the record, I'm a Val Lewton fan. I think that means I'm awesome.

The Shamus said...

You know my answer. It's NEVER been a genre worth following. Let's talk about what's really important this weekend, Dennis: Jeff Bridges is supposedly bringing back the Dude through his voiceover in this little penguin movie, Surf's Up. It's the sequel, man! The Lebowski sequel!

Chris Stangl said...

I really really truly thought (and wished and hoped) that the phrase "torture porn" wouldn't catch on. And I would never have to hear it again. It doesn't mean anything, and it shoots all serious arguments in the foot.

As for Roth's actual work, as opposed to the phony-baloney handwringing, my take is pretty much the same as yours. I wanted the first half of HOSTEL to be suspenseful, but didn't get suspended. The Escape from Camp Torture sequence wasn't harrowing or funny enough to be harrowing or funny, or maybe I wasn't drunk enough. And in the end, just shrugged: engh. I've seen worse. Worse as in "more sickening," worse as in "more offensive," but also worse as in "less entertaining." E-Ro's never going to out-gross THE BEYOND or CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.

CINEBEATS said...

While I personally think that Hostel was easily one of the best American horror films I've seen in recent years and full of humor as well as satire (and I stress AMERICAN since I think better horror films are being made in Asia and France), I also think it's really silly to assume that one filmmaker can be the future of any film genre.

Other than that, I've got to agree with Damian above me, even if Damian and I totally disagree on the topic. I'm pretty much talked out about Roth at this point and have gone into great detail about why I liked the first Hostel film and why I'm looking forward to Hostel 2 in my own blog.

I will add that I'm really tired of professional (and I use that term loosely) film critics writing about horror cinema when they clearly know nothing about it. If they think Hostel is more gory than horror films made 70s, they clearly haven't seen a lot of horror movies.

Thom McGregor said...

Dennis, you personally know how I feel about horror movies in general (for the most part) and the advertising for the newer generation of horror films in particular. Frankly, I have no stomach for any of it. But I must come somewhat to the LA Times' defense. According to my rather rusty memory, they referred to the word "gorno" as one being used these days as meaning the same thing as "torture porn," but I don't think they coined it themselves. By the way, thanks, hubby, for that terrifying picture from the old "Phantom of the Opera." It still scares me so much more than any of the images I've seen from "Hostel 2." Those just disgust me. I almost couldn't read your blog next to the Phantom picture because I was too scared!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

David: I know that a lot of folks—and you’re included here— seem to think that Cabin Fever had plenty of craft, humor and satiric intent. I can definitely see the intent in the movie, so maybe I should restate my claim. Rather than the movie being bereft of those three elements, let’s say that I feel like the aim was way low, and in that regard maybe the bull’s-eye was hit. I just felt Cabin Fever was far too close to the silliness of tone of many of the bad movies it meant to invoke for me to find it an illuminating parody, intelligent satire or much more than anything other than fitfully amusing. But it sounds like our experience with anticipating Hostel Part II is very similar indeed. You say, “I don't have high hopes, but I'm open to being impressed.” I couldn’t have said it better. And I’d love to see it with you this weekend, if I can possibly swing it. Shoot me an e-mail and let me know where and when, and if my studies don’t get in the way, I will be there!

Peet: “Someone like Guillermo del Toro is a much better candidate for the future of horror, because he shows a deeper understanding of violence, fear, true empathy, archetypes and the power of metaphor.”

Thanks for reminding me of the obvious, my friend. In my haste to compile a list of great horror movies, I left off Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. Frankly, I’m even tempted to include Hellboy! Del Toro has definitely got the creative inspiration, the visual brilliance and dexterity, and the instincts of thematic and narrative courage to take horror into the future, and the reaction to Pan’s Labyrinth suggests that a lot more of us than previously thought are willing to come along. Of course, there has been the expected backlash against Del Toro—some have even suggested that he’s surrounded by too many people too willing to nod "yes" and confirm his genius at every turn. While I have no idea if that’s true or not, his movies don’t feel like the product of a megalomaniacal tyrant thirsty for validation and coronation as an auteur. They simply come about their status as modern classics the old fashioned way (God bless you, Mr. Houseman)—they earn it!

Bill: “No one seems interested in trying to make a film as amazing as The Shining or The Exorcist or as unique as the original The Wicker Man (it’s deeply flawed, I know). It seems the best we can hope for, apart from The Descent, is something like Session 9, an unambitious but truly effective ghost story. That’s fine, but how many people have seen it? Not as many people who have seen The Devil’s Rejects, which is so awesome because by the end you’re supposed to be rooting for the killers! Sure, that’s a morally repellent notion, but it gets people talking.”

And that is, I’m afraid, behind a lot of the excessive gore, and the straight-up equation of gore with fear in modern horror movies (an equation that the most effective horror movies, even the gory ones, have never really made--and I say that as one who often enjoys excessive gore)— it’s there to grab attention and get people talking, and I guess it works.

I think a movie like The Devil’s Rejects at least attempts to walk a fine line toward an interesting conclusion, even if I also think it loses its balance more often than not. And I think the switch it does midway through—providing a figure of the law who equals the psychosis of our protagonists and turns the tables on them, is at least an attempt to get the audience to see how their sympathies can be so easily manipulated. But subtlety is not going to sell tickets right now, and that’s why movies like Session 9 are barely known, and why movies like The Shining or The Wicker Man would be decpetively marketed a la Bug and probably laughed or yelled off the screen by people pissed off at the lack of sledgehammer grue.

Cinebeats: “I also think it's really silly to assume that one filmmaker can be the future of any film genre.”

Absolutely. And that thought is a comforting one, no matter who we’re talking about. Because when someone like Quentin Tarantino drops a shell like that one, he’s looking for blurb space on a video box just like Pete Hammond of Maxim. Only he’s QT, so people who probably should be carrying around cartons of Morton Salt to toss over their shoulder when they hear something like that instead just fold it right into the old star-making machinery, as Joni Mitchell would say. By the way, bravo for your defense of Mario Bava in the Hawks thread. Like I said, I know Black Sunday, A Bay of Blood, Planet of the Vampires, Baron Blood and a couple of others. I would love it if you’d provide us a brief list of essential Bava. And I will check out that comedy, Four Times a Night, if I can find it!

Shamus: The Lebowski Sequel! We’re headed to the drive-in for this, and you’re right! For that element alone, Surf’s Up is unmissable. If you haven’t read it, check out David Edelstein’s sharp review. He mentions the Dude, and in the process makes the movie sound like a lot of meta fun. (And Ocean’s 13 too! What a great weekend! And I still haven’t seen Knocked Up or Black Book!)

Thom: Thanks for the infor on “gorno.” A Google search reveals some interesting background on the term. But I still feel my eyes rolling. Like Chris above, I hope, hope, hope this term doesn’t catch on. And I apologize for putting you through the fear of the Phantom. But I have to say, after all this talk about what it takes to scare people, or what Eli Roth thinks a horror movie should do, it is comforting to know that Lon Chaney’s shrieking visage can still scare the shit out of someone in 2007.

bill said...

In an attempt to sound slightly less cynical than I did before, I wonder if "The Shining" would be laughed off the screen ("The Wicker Man" would be, no question). Kubrick's film seems to find new fans every year, who see it as a relentlessly chilling piece of work. I'm surprised by that, but it does seem to be the case. Younger people do seem to like certain Kubrick movies (although, admittedly, sometimes for the wrong reasons).

I think the turn that "The Devil's Rejects" makes is awful. It's not a very good movie before that -- though I admit it was sleazily effective -- but I, for one, wasn't manipulated into rooting for the killers at all, and was offended by the notion that I should have been. It may be subversive, but so what? "Subversive" doesn't automatically mean "good".

Before, in praising "Session 9", I also called it unambitious. I'd like to take that back. I don't mean that the film broke new ground, but I do think it's ambitious in a strange way, because it's something of a throwback to a grander tradition of slow-burning, atmospheric horror. It may not be new, but it's hard to do well.

There's a horror writer named Ramsey Campbell who frequently bemoans the state of horror fiction because the young writers don't know their history, and don't read any of the early giants of the field, like M. R. James, because they think those forms are old and ineffective. Most of these writers end up being inspired by bad 80s horror films, or even good 80s horror films, and their writing suffers (badly...take my word for it). I think we're in a similar situation with horror films today. Horror filmmakers these days have, by and large, a very narrow set of inspirations.

I know this a film website, and I'm sorry to keep bringing up literature, but I deeply wish horror films would be made by people who read and appreciated authors like M. R. James, or Thomas Ligotti, or Robert Aickman. Then we'd really start seeing something.

Sal said...

Dennis, don't forget what Del Toro was able to do with the sequel to BLADE. Not only did he stylize the BLADE world but he was able to shift the story focus from revenge on the part of the main characters elemental nature to the search for reason and redemption. Plus he was also able to create an exciting and sometimes creepy film to watch.

Now I know I've been known to make simple minded comments from time to time, so I'm not going to stop now... who is that woman standing next to Eli in that first photo? My -O-My!!

Bemis said...

Bill, I see what you're saying, but remember that The Shining was pretty poorly received upon its release as well. In fact, a Fangoria poll listed it as the worst horror movie of 1980 in the same year that Friday the 13th was rated best. Shock yields immediate results; atmosphere takes time to catch on.

bill said...

I certainly agree with that. I've just gotten the impression that "The Shining" is able to take hold of all sorts of people these days. Maybe I'm wrong.

I did know that it was poorly received when it first came out, but I didn't know about that "Fangoria" list. Christ, that's depressing. But what can you expect from "Fangoria"? You don't have a link, do you? I'd love to know their reasoning.

Also, since I apparently enjoy retracting things I said earlier, I would like to retract my statement implying that good horror doesn't need to be allegorical. That's pretty stupid, since the whole genre is basically an allegory for fear of death or the unknown. Good horror doesn't need to be social satire...that's what I meant.

CINEBEATS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CINEBEATS said...

trying to correct my typos...

Thanks for the shout-out Dennis! I wouldn't personally call myself an authority on anything, but horror cinema is definitely my favorite film genre and thanks to my long-time (25+ years) interest, I've managed to read a lot about it and watch a hell of a lot of movies. I can also be very fangirlish. ;D

I'll be happy to share a list of Bava films with you soon! I'm off to Vegas for 3 days and I'll get back to you when I return. I hope to see Hostel 2 when I'm in Vegas so I should have more to say baout the movie after I see it.

jeffmcm said...

Excellent discussion, and probably the very first even halfway plausible defense of Saw II and III, which I've considered to be pretty miserable excuses in shockery, so thanks for that.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bill: A friend of mine once read a whole bunch of Ramsey Campbell and said that he thought I'd like him. Of course, I can't remember any of the titles now. I'd love to hear about any Campbell titles or any other horror authors that you think are worth reading.

Of course you're right that subversive shouldn't always be equated with good. And it doesn't exactly work that way in The Devil's Rejects either. I just found it interesting-- and maybe it was my way of rationalizing having to endure some of the things the movie put me through earlier-- that we would find this murderous trio put in the same spot as their own victims, however briefly. It made me think about why I would in any way want them to escape, even as I found myself wanting them to do just that. Can those standards and structures of victimization and desire of vengeance apply even to horrifcally amoral murderers when they find themselves in this situation? Or do we just want to see them slaughtered and have done with it? Or do we just wanna leave the theater? (I did think Zombie's Bonnie and Clyde/Thelma and Louise parody, scored to the seemingly endless "Freebird," was pretty funny.)

Bemis did beat me to it in responding to the comments about The Shining. I do remember how mixed were the reviews and the audience response when the movie came out in the summer of 1980. There were plenty of people who were very impatient for the movie to get on with its busniess, and were none-too-satisfied when they found out what that business was. But I had forgotten about that Fangoria poll. And I really do think that if it were made today, it'd have just as difficult a time with horror fans primed for sensationalistic shocks over a more subtle approach. I'm not saying that it wouldn't eventually catch on in some way, just that it might have an even tougher time of it than it did in 1980.

Cinebeats: Have a great time in Vegas! I would be as pleased as punch if you would check back in and let us know what you thought of Hostel Part II after you've seen it. That's my hope for everyone reading and participating in this thread, actually.

Jeff: If you're interested, here's my review of Saw III, which gets a little further into what I was talking about. I don't think much of the first one, and I wouldn't make claims of greatness for the two sequels either, but I do think II and III are good, solid movies and more interesting than their reputations as "miserable excuses in shockery" would dictate.

Sal: That's Edwige Fenech. Go up to the "UPDATE" section of the post, click on the link to her name and enjoy Cinebeats appreciation (complete with luscious photos!).

Bill said...

Here's the thing about that...I'm actually not a big fan of Ramsey Campbell's fiction. I agree with just about everything he says about the genre, but I just don't enjoy his own work very much. I haven't read a lot, and I haven't given up on him yet, but right now I can't think of anything to recommend, because I haven't really enjoyed any.

However, two other writers I mentioned I can highly recommend, Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman. They both write short stories almost exclusively. Aickman was British, and wrote what he called "strange stories". That's really the best way to describe them. They're elegantly written, and by the end of one of them you don't know exactly what has happened, or why it has happened, or what it means, but you're deeply unsettled. Ligotti, who's still alive, is basically insane, literally. His outlook on humanity is incredibly bleak, to the point of madness (literally), and he's one of the best writers the field has produced since Poe.

If short stories aren't your thing, have I got a novel for you. Somebody else around here must have read the novel "Flicker" by Theodore Roszak. Basically, it's a metaphysical horror novel about the secret history of movies. One of the main characters is based on Pauline Kael, and Orson Welles makes an appearance. It's brilliant.

Sal said...

Dennis, thanks for that info. She fills my teenage desires for 40+ women. Shhhhhh. That's just between you and I.... and all you other people. I wanted to give a shout out to Cinema Retro, which I found thru the link you gave me. That is one cool website. You should spread the word.

bill said...

Oh, but if you are really interested in Ramsey Campbell, he also has a horror novel revolving around film, called "Ancient Images", and two novels that I hear particularly good things about but haven't read are "The Face that Must Die" and "The Count of Eleven". One I did read, many years ago, is called "The Doll Who Ate His Mother". Hard not to be intrigued with a title like that, huh? I wasn't thrilled, but I should read it again.

Okay, I'll stop now.

Robert said...

Dennis -

If anyone's interested in Mario Bava, a good place to start would be the recent 5 film box set THE FILMS OF MARIO BAVA, VOL. 1 (now at an absurdly low price on Amazon.com) which includes the international cuts of BLACK SUNDAY (THE MASK OF SATAN); BLACK SABBATH (THE THREE FACES OF FEAR); THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH; KNIVES OF THE AVENGER and KILL, BABY... KILL!

Other essential Bava includes HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD; PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and DANGER:DIABOLIK!

As the the subject at hand... having attempted to sit through CABIN FEVER and seeing that the Emporor had no clothes, despite the slavering of fanboys on message boards, I'm no big fan of Eli Roth. I'm sure he'll grab his share of success, but he's no more "the future of horror" anymore than Clive Barker turned out to be when he was similarly hyped as such.

People may rankle at the term 'torture-porn', but it does hit head-on the draw that these types of films have... say what you will about 'social commentary', the main draw for the HOSTEL audience, and other films of its ilk, is to see pretty youngsters bound, tortured and killed. Period.

It's nothing new - it was present in the 70's as part of the Italian giallo films, in which killings were done very stylishly (and made Dario Argento a cult figure for life, even though he can't tell a coherent story); and as artlessly as the 80's stalker/slasher movie craze. Torture-Porn is just the latest incarnation... and the next step after this will probably as close to Snuff as one can legally come to.

There's many niches in Horror, but Torture-Porn and its ilk seem to get the most attention and money... at least for now. It might just be my age (I turn 42 this year), but I really don't see the point of it - I mean, how many people can you watch being brutalized and minced, and still claim it as 'art'? I imagine that it'll eventually burn itself out once people get tired of 'teenager' hamburger.

There IS good Horror out there, but the independent stuff you really have to dig for, and dig through a lot of bloody, FANGORIA-praised crap to find -- and a lot of it isn't dependent on throwing around a lot of blood and guts to be effective.

Larry Fessenden's Trilogy of Horror (NO TELLING, HABIT, WENDIGO) has plenty of dread for the discriminating horror fan, and his new film, THE LAST WINTER, is in general release this fall.

THE EMPTY ACRE, directed by Patrick Rea, is a low-key and atmospheric film, very reminscent of the work of writer T.E.D. Klein, and will be on DVD in August.

And quite frankly, the best horror film, that I've seen so far this year has been THE HOST.

Thomas Mohr said...

As for Campbell, the only book of his I read 15 or so years ago was a collection of erotic horror stories called "Scared Stiff". If my memory serves me right, they were neither particulary scary nor particularly sexy - and rather sloppily written at that. His novel "The Nameless" was filmed quite effectively by Spanish first-time director Jaume Balaguero in 1999 as "Los sin nombre". It's a creepy piece of atmospheric horror (with a totally botched ending, though) and shows that Balaguero has a strong visual sense and, undeniably, is a talented director but a hack of a screenwriter, as it were. Unfortunately, his films have only become worse - his American-made "Darkness", once again, suffers from a weak screenplay, and "Fragiles" (starring Calista Flockhart) simply is an interminable bore, marred by a stupid story and an obvious lack of funding, resulting in a lot of cheap and even laughable effects.

As I mentioned in my answer sheet to one of Dennis's movie quizzes (or questionnaires, to be precise), Roszak's "Flicker" is one of my favorite books - metaphysical horror, satire, thriller, and picaresque novel all rolled into one. If you haven't read it, check it out - you won't regret it. According to IMDB, Darren Aronofsky (whose "The Fountain" I saw last night) is currently working on a screen adaptation of Roszak's novel. If this project ever gets off the ground, it will definitely be something to look forward to.

Neil Sarver said...

This is a great post and some wonderful discussion going on here.

I'm finding this "torture porn" issue quite fascinating as a point to ponder. I just wrote my third or fourth post this week on the subject (or related subjects), Torture porn?, although I admit I may have reached my limit at this point, too.

I'll jump in line with Cinebeats, Bava is probably in my Top 5 directors definitely. I'll agree with Robert, too, that the new box set, probably with the new DVD of Rabid Dogs (along with a new cut under the title Kidnapped!) that was released at the same time, is as good a place to start as possible.

And also allow me to praise Argento not in spite of his "inability" to tell a coherent story, but, in fact, because of it.

Neil Sarver said...

Just to briefly add, and thank you for the link, but I'm not sure "praise for Roth" is exactly correct in regard to my posts on the subject. I agree completely with dave s's comment, "The strongest quality that I think both Cabin Fever and Hostel Part I have in common is promise..." and have been attempting to convey this.

Mind you, I'm also stuck with a kind of excitement or anticipation... the hope that this will be the one on which he fulfills that promise, or some part of it.

But I'm not prepared to praise him beyond that.

Peet said...

Has any of you read David Poland's take on Hostel II? He's appalled and says there has to be drawn a line somewhere... Judging from his descriptions of the third act, it's hard not to sympathize with his plea.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bill: The Doll Who Ate His Mother! That was the title I was trying to remember. Thank for the recommends, especially Flicker. God, that does sound great! I'm gonna start looking for it!

Peet, I've only read selected excerpts of Poland's piece, though I did link to it above (and thanks for your more easily accessed link here). I think I'll go and read it right now before breakfast (or should I wait till after? Same difference , I guess...)

But I'm glad you brought up Poland and this kind of outraged reaction. It seems that even some those writers who are obviously appalled by the movie, and this general movement in the genre, have tempered their disgust to one degree or another, usually by acknowledging the craft with which Roth's movie has allegedly been made (I say allegedly because I haven't yet seen it myself.) But Poland, in the parlance, allows himself to just go off. Now, he's not always the most tempered writer either, but from what I've read this seems pretty extreme even for him-- and somehow an extreme reaction to something this extreme seems oddly appropriate. And it makes me think of a question I posed in one of the past quizzes, and I think I'd like to toss it out there again.

Particularly from those of us who have a high tolerance for gore and other forms of violence in movies, what would it take for you to find yourselves approaching a Poland-like level of anger and outrage? Is there some situation or depiction of violence that would make you draw the line and say, "That's it. That goes too far for me"? Have you actually seen a movie where you've had to finally draw that line? Or, in the spirit of new millennium Grand Guignol in horror films (for whatever reason, I'm trying to avoid that more judgmental term that's gaining popularity), does anything go?

For me, the depiction of rape is something I never want to see-- the threat of it (Welcome to the Dollhouse) or the horrific depiction of it (Lipstick and Rob Roy are two examples that come to mind, and I'm also thinking about Jennifer Melfi in the stairwell on The Sopranos). I've never quite figured out why I'm so physically repulsed and depressed by the confrontation with this crime, but I am. When I saw Deliver Us from Evil, I achieved a sutained level of anger that I don't think I've ever experienced watching a fiction or nonfiction film before. And, needless to say, no matter how brilliant it may or may not be, there's absolutely no chance I'm going to subject myself to Irreversible.

As far as the line being drawn, though, I never thought I'd find that point. I'm fairly resilient, and I've seen a lot of movies that made me want to turn my head, but I can also take Wes Craven's advice and remind myself that "It's only a movie! It's only a movie!" if I absolutely have to--"Ha! Look how fake that eyeball looked popping out of the girl's head!" And one of my favorite horror films is also one of the hardest (for me, at least) to endure, not just because of its violence and its craft, but because of its level of intimacy it achieves with both its main characters-- Audition.

But I finally drew the line at Takashi Miike's contribution to Showtime's Masters of Horror series entitled Imprint. Not only did it combine the ghastly and most torturous elements of rape (physical torture and penetration perpetrated on a woman, this time by another woman), but there was so much graphic imagery of abortion and dead fetsues, and the abuse of dead fetuses (another major blackout zone for me) that I finally had to say that this was the movie that defined the point where, no matter how thematically defensible that imagery was, or how effective the storytelling, I could not justify it in my mind. (And, truthfully, the storytelling was not prime Miike anyway, hobbled as it was by a disastrously bad lead performance by Billy Drago.) Many of you may have seen Imprint and been able to distance yourselves from the avalanche of horrors the director depicts in just a brief one-hour running time, but I simply could not. Imprint made me feel as though I'd been raped.

Christian said...

Dennis: It seems to me, without having seen the Miike film you mention, that it might be useful to distinguish between films that are "horrific" and films that are "disgusting." The latter term is the one that gives me the impulse to walk out of a theater, although it's probably too broad here. We've all seen humorous films that might be categorized as disgusting; some find such humor uproarious, some find it merely tolerable, and others can't watch the stuff.

When we're dealing with more serious subjects, like life and death -- particularly death, and how we arrive at it -- horror can be appropriate, but disgust bothers me.

I'll let others hammer me on specific definitions of these terms, which I'm not going to provide (resorting to the entirely subjective "I know it when I see it" distinction), but this is a long way of saying that the most recent, and perhaps only film that I've ever wanted to walk out of is a recent title, and not categorized as a horror movie.

Had I not been paid to review Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," I would've left the theater. It's a truly revolting piece of work that, unfortunately, has some measure of craft behind it, thus blinding many critics to the pointlessness of this silly little chase film. Gibson's ponderous comments about the Iraq War, and the text that appears on screen at the beginning of the film, set us up for a profound look at how civilizations rise and fall -- something that movie has only a cursory interest in.

Because it's so ludicrous, the bloodletting in "Apocalypto" is almost entirely unjustified. But it's hard to figure this out until the movie ends, with a whimper. That's when the resentment sets in.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

In poring through the Warren Commission Report-- I mean, the David Poland post and the 163 subsequent pages of comments in its wake, I'm discovering an interesting, exhausting debate. One thing jumped out at me, though, in relation to my last comment-- Poland cites both Audition and Imprint as examples of narrative extremism that he finds justifiable. And you really ought to read his post in order to consider the other movie he talks about, Tony kaye's documentary on abortion entitled Lake of Fire.

Christian, thanks for making those distinctions. They are important. And thanks for bringing up Apocalypto too, which I still haven't gotten around to. (I will.) Gibson's movies are quite appropo to this discussion, I think.

And I wanted to point y'all to a couple of links that are fun additions to what we've got going on here. First, the Shamus has a keen little confessional posted at his blog Bad for the Glass (formerly That Little Roundheaded Boy entitled "Oooh! Scary!" in which he grapples with the five scariest movie characters and moments for him, a notorious disdainer of the horror genre. (Shamus, have I told you how much I like the new title of your blog?)

And Kim Morgan, the smartest critic I know who put last year's Hills Have Eyes remake on her top 10 of the year, has yet to check in with her own thoughts on Hostel Part II, but I'm sure they are coming. Like the views expressed here by Kimberly at Cinebeats, the more I read about that already notorious Heather Matarazzo interlude the more I look forward to the female point of view on all this. And as far as I'm concerned, there are no two females I'd rather hear from on it (and many other subjects) than Kimberly and Kim. Right now, over at her MSN Movies Filter spot, Kim Morgan has a wrap-up of some differing points of view on Mr. Roth's movie-- the good, the bad and the ugly, as she would have it-- and she ends with this:

"If you're an avid movie watcher and you've actually seen a foreign film, a 1970's horror movie or a Takashi Miike picture, chances are you've viewed some seriously effed-up content and were responsible enough to have an opinion about it--good or bad.

All this hype feels like some critics are saying, 'Sure, sure, let the film freaks have their creepy little cult movies. But the upstanding, mainstream, movie watching public? Outrage! I guess drugs aren't a problem until they hit the suburbs either.'"

Kim, if you're lurking, please drop in and let us know what your take is. If you don't, I'll just have to link ya!

Damian said...

Dennis:

Thank you for the shout-out and you're welcome (for the links). As I said before, I may be a little tired of talking about all of this, but that doesn't mean that I think it's not still worth talking about. I also hope you didn't feel that my comment about wishing that the forum had happened earlier was a criticism of your timing, because it wasn't. There was nothing wrong at all with your starting this discussion when you did and, in fact, it looks as if it has blossomed into an interesting, thoughtful and, most important of all, civil exchange of ideas and opinions. Here's hoping that we can all continue to talk respectfully about movies that we feel passionately about (either positively or negatively).

bill said...

"Imprint" is one of the harder films I've ever sat through. But, even though I didn't like it very much, I thought its horrific images were justifiable. In fact, I thought there were the only truly effective moments, which might say a lot about Miike, who I've decided is a very overrated filmmaker.

Which brings me to "Ichi the Killer". I sat through the whole thing, but I think it's an utterly useless, repellent film, and the moment that most repulsed me was the nipple-slicing scene. Possibly the worst thing about it is that I had the sneaking suspicion that I was supposed to find the scene funny in some way.

Bill said...

Should have added that I don't think there is any situation that I refuse to see depicted on film, as long as the intent is justifiable. "Imprint" seemed to me to have reasonable intent, while "Ichi" didn't.

David Lowery said...

Hey Dennis,

Sorry I didn't get in touch with you -- we ended up catching a late show. And, well, you didn't miss much.

David Poland is pretty on point - the scene that so upset him is indeed unjustifiable, wrong, tasteless and, to my surprise, actually justified for me the torture porn label that's been bandied about (it's a term that had always actually annoyed me before). It's irresponsible. While Roth would inarguably say that my response to it justifies its inclusion, the rest of the film lays bare the cracks in his conviction. The rest of the film, following this scene, is dumb, over the top and as silly as it is sick - it's forgettable, but also mildly satisfying, in a base giallo sense (the storyline with the businessman isn't as disturbing as it potentially could be, but it does work on a certain level). But to get what little fun there is, we have to sit through this one scene that serves no purpose but to brutally repulse.

Maybe Roth wanted to put us on the spot and punish us for showing up to enjoy some gory death scenes - but the rest of the film is too trifling to support that sort of strong statement. Not to mention the fact that Roth himself clearly gets too much of a kick out of the gore for an excuse like that to be even halfway passable.

The movie's brutality didn't really make me mad, the way it did Poland -- I've got a strong stomach, and can handle pretty much anything (although Cannibal Holocaust was pretty tough on me). What a movie like Hostel II does is annoy me.

And now, for the time being at least, Eli Roth really annoys me too. I've been reading interviews with him, and his defense of his movie is tantamount to those less thoughtful religious types who castrate the logic of any philosophical discussion by mistaking faith for reason.

Peet said...

Well... Nipple-slicing is where I personally draw the line (just like I won't view breast operation footage, simply because I adore the damn things too much). And yes, that's one of the reasons I'll stay away from Ichi the Killer, no matter how cartoonish the violence may be.

That said: I have a lot of respect for other work by Miike, including AUDITION. A definitive exception would be VISITOR Q--one of the most repulsive films I have ever endured (it would make a great double bill with IRREVERSIBLE if you need a little help slicing those wrists). Thing is: it's a black comedy, but I lost all appetite for humor after the first two shocking family tableaus.

Damian said...

I know you are interested in hearing female perspectives on this film, Dennis, so I thought I'd provide you with yet another link. Filmbrain has some interesting things to say about the movie .

David Lowery said...

Filmbrain isn't female...but his piece is excellent, and worth taking a look at.

blaaagh said...

I "liked" CABIN FEVER pretty well, as I found the characters somewhat likable, the situation scary and funny, and the over-the-top grossness more fun than depressing. But HOSTEL, for me, went way too far in the direction of showing people being tortured and suffering horrible mutilation and terror, and while I agree that it had a clever premise and a suspenseful beginning, I was left with an empty, depressed feeling: I'd just sat through this pointless, horribly ugly film to be entertained. I admit I haven't read all the commentary here yet--I only had a little time--but I ought to figure out what HOSTEL was supposedly telling me about our world today, or whatever (I admit it had some kind of resonance for me about international paranoia and the greed of the rich, but it's fuzzy for me). If anything, though, the repulsive ads for HOSTEL II have convinced me of what I'd already decided: I don't want to go see it!

Damian said...

Filmbrain isn't female...but his piece is excellent, and worth taking a look at.

Oops. My bad. :(

I guess I always assumed that that image of the woman with her finger on her lips was the actual author of the blog. How embarassing.

dave s said...

dennis --- my 2 favourite ramsey campbell books were mentioned earlier. i definitely recommend reading 'the doll who ate his mother' and 'the face that must die'. these books don't necessarily best represent campbell's body of work, but they are the ones that hooked me on his writing (none of his other books that i've read have equaled the impact that these 2 had on me).

i'm glad you mentioned miike's banned masters of horror episode, 'imprint'. though there's a whole elizabeth bathory thing going on in heather matarazzo's final scene in 'hostel part 2', it reminded me of a similar, though i'd have to say more upsetting, scene in 'imprint'.

so.. i saw 'hostel part 2' over the weekend, and i have to say that i liked it. i thought it was a big step up from roth's other flicks --- creepy, suspenseful, disturbing, and confrontational.

bill said...

Another good recent horror novel is "The Ruins", by Scott Smith (writer of the novel and screenplay "A Simple Plan"). To try and summarize the book would both ruin it and make it sound ridiculous. Just know he asks you to suspend quite a lot of disbelief in order to go with the story, but I think it works brilliantly.

Also, for the record, I realized what my cut-off is: the actual killing/harming of animals. This has been done in lots of movies, not just horror, but I think it's impossible to justify in any way, and it's why I'll never see "Cannibal Holocaust".

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bill, Peet: I hadn't mentioned Ichi the Killer because I bailed out on it about halfway through-- I just thought its violence was so overdone and unpleasant, with a faint whiff of that "if you can't take this, then you're a pussy" attitude that I've been told courses through Gaspar Noe's work, particularly Irreversible. I don't find that attitude in Roth's movies so much as I sense a childish glee in what he's been able (so far) to get away with. It's not the most mature attitude a filmmaker can have, but it's probably what keeps me from getting too twisted up about what he's doing from a moral perspective.

I hope the reactions keep coming in. Thanks to Damian for pointing everyone to the man called Filmbrain, who, in addition to his own well-spoken negative reaction, provides a great link to S.T. Van Airsdale's equally offended take on Roth's movie, plus some highlights of his own Q&A with the director after the screening.

Unfortunately, an unexpected schoolwork snafu is going to keep me plenty occupied through today and prevent me from writing about the movie today (a friend and I saw it Saturday night). I will say though that, certain reservations aside-- and I will talk about those reservations-- my reaction to Hostel Part II surprised me. After several days of conversation about it here and other places, I was ready to not like it, and I'm still not convinced that Eli Roth has a whole lot in his bag of tricks as a filmmaker. But I have to admit that I thought Hostel Part II was effective and surprisingly sharp, especially when compared to the previous movie. I don't know how much of my reaction was dependent on my increased vulnerability to seeing women in positions of victimization as opposed to men. Whether or not my empathy level is based to some degree (at least as far as movies are concerned) on gender is a question I've been wrestling with since Saturday. But I will say that my friend and I left the theater somewhat exhilarated by the experience of the movie as a piece of giallo-influenced shock, a reaction neither of us anticipated. Roth stumbles every time he tries, in interviews or in the actual movie, to draw a direct line between what happens in his gruesome fantasy and what is happening in the rest of the world. But part of what made the movie successful for me was the way it threw somelight on what would drive a certain (American) type to particpate in these horrific business transactions.

I've already said too much. I'll get into it more later, including the Heather Matarazzo character, either in these comments or as a separate post. But until then, I'd love to hear more from those who have seen it, those who have links to interesting material, and anything else related you wanna talk about.

The one thing I think I'm pretty sated on is Eli Roth himself. Enough interviews and puff pieces. Enough questionable after-the-fact rationalizations. Enough of the largely self-created cult of Eli Roth.

bill said...

Dennis, regarding this comment: "I just thought its violence was so overdone and unpleasant, with a faint whiff of that 'if you can't take this, then you're a pussy" attitude that I've been told courses through Gaspar Noe's work, particularly Irreversible.'"

Exactly. That attitude, which is very prevelant these days among horror films and fans, really burns my ass, and is one of the main reasons I'm not very optimistic about the genre.

For the record, I didn't get that vibe from "Irreversible". I think Noe would have been more judgmental of people who weren't horrified by the movie. But the other important point about "Irreversible" is that it's actually not very good, and lives on only due to it's shock value.

And I want to see "Hostel, Part II" more now than I did before. Oh, and if it matters to this discussion, I gather that, box-office-wise, it didn't do so hot.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bill: I think it only matters insofar as, once again, boffo general audience numbers have been predicted for what is essentially a niche horror film, not really a mainstream film at all. It's even divided people who normally line up for this type of thing-- perhaps too many people have gotten the idea that, for them, it does indeed go too far. And, according to the L.A. Times reportage on the front page of its Saturday edition, the current slate of horror movies and remakes have been experiencing a consistent downturn in terms of how much money the fan base is willing to shell out for movies they are perceiving to be uninspired retreads of tired ideas.

Of course, it doesn't matter one bit as to whether Hostel Part II, or Ocean's 13 or anything else, is any good. But like his movie or not (and I do), I'm taking this as a good sign for those of us who have had enough of the director's weak attempts to bill his craftily rendered carnage as any kind of reflection of the real world, and as such I am considering Roth officially taken down one peg.

bill said...

Oh, me too. It's weird, because I really do want to see this movie now, but the fact that it's not meeting expectations financially gives me some satisfaction schadenfreudally speaking (what? That's a word right?). I think Roth's "this is about America!" posturing clearly comes from his believing the (largely overseas) press telling everyone that's what it was about. But weren't there a lot of non-American torturers in that first movie...?

Speaking of which, talking about "Hostel" and Miike reminds me of what I think is possibly the most chilling moment from the first movie, which was Miike's cameo as a rich man just leaving the Torture Dome (or whatever it's called) and saying "You can spend all your money in there." Really a great moment, I think, and I hope for more in that vein in the sequel.

Alex said...

"but I deeply wish horror films would be made by people who read and appreciated authors like M. R. James, or Thomas Ligotti, or Robert Aickman. Then we'd really start seeing something."

I don't know. Richard Matheson's work has been put up on screen a lot, and it's usually much more effective on paper. I myself have played around with thinking of M.R. James stories as potential projects for me to film, but I've come to the conclusion that they can't work well on screen.

"I'd love to hear about any Campbell titles or any other horror authors that you think are worth reading."

Algernon Blackwood - "The Willows", "Wendigo"
William Hope Hodgson - House on the Borderland, Night Land
Fritz Leiber - Our Lady of Darkness, "The Terror from the Depths"
Arthur Machen - short stories: The Great God Pan, Hill of Dreams, The Novel of the Black Seal, The White People
Fred Chapell - Dagon
H.R. Wakefield
Oliver Onions - "The Beckoning Fair One"
T.E.D. Klein - "The Events at Poroth Farm", "Black Man with a Horn", "Children of the Kingdom"

bill said...

True, Matheson's work has been generally screwed over on film (I'm sure I'm not alone among Matheson fans in having no faith in the upcoming adaptation of "I Am Legend"), but James's "Casting the Runes" was made into a terrific film, "Night of the Demon" (or "Curse of the Demon"). It can be done.

I have the collected works of James, but have only just started reading him. What else do you recommend by him? I'll be a passenger in a car a lot this coming weekend, so I'll be able to get a lot read.

bill said...

Also, I didn't necessarily mean I wanted those writers works to be adapted to film (although that would be good, too); my point was really that I wished there were horror filmmakers who were inspired by those writers, who were on the same wavelength. I want to see a the cinematic equivelant of a Thomas Ligotti or Robert Aickman story, whether it's based on one or not.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Well, the arguing rages on even, when the movie didn't do particularly well over the weekend, and here I am, ready to sit down and finally write about Hostel Part II. But for some reason, I am suddenly unable to access any Blogger-based sites, including my own, from any of the three computers I have at home. (I'm writing this at work.) So, until I get home tonight and can sit down in front of Microsoft Word and do a little writing, my thoughts will have to wait. If Blogger magically fixes itself and I can post tonight, I will. If not, I'll bring it in and post from here tomorrow morning.

Until then, here's a couple more essential links to the argument swirling around Roth's rumpus.

SLIFR friend and all-around great blogger and film aficionado Campaspe checks in and does not worry about being perceived as Crowtheresque in her negative reaction to the whole Eli Roth phenomenon. Her terrific piece is called "You Think I'm Hostile Now..." (and stick around for the comments!)

Neil Sarver has more to say (and to link to) at his blog The Bleeding Tree.

And Christopher Stangl has some of the most intelligent and passionate commentary you're likely to read anywhere, regarding not so much the movie, but the reactionary response to it, as capsulized by the term "torture porn." Many thanks to Chris for writing such a smart post which addresses, among other things, the assumption by a lot of folks who don't care for Hostel Part II, or horror movies in general, that there's something a little bit wrong with those of us who do. You'll find it at his great site, The Exploding Kinetoscope-- it's called "Critical Disconnect: The 120 Days of Hostel Part II".

Finally, if you're tired of Eli Roth altogether (and who isn't honestly, at this point?), Peet offers up an altogether more pleasant alternative topic of conversation. And he has pictures too! Suddenly I feel much better about the world.

Alex said...

The best stories by MR James tend to be those that play directly into his antiquarian interests: those involving medieval churches or cathedrals, in particular (which side-step the usual English hyper-obsession with haunted country houses). But he was a very good writer, almost every horror story he wrote is well worth reading.

Curse of the Demon is a very good horror movie indeed, but I'm not sure it would work today. You can make a MR James adaptation in period dress and settings - but I'm doubtful whether you can update his work into the present moment (I won't use period dress or settings for my own personal reasons). 1950s England (the setting the movie updates the original Edwardian story) was probably the last place where you could easily transplant MR James' Victorian / Edwardian settings. English television has done a fair number of these period adaptations of MR James (i.e., usually in period dress and settings) over the years, and I don't find the results very compelling.

I do think an adaptation of Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness is both possible and could be extremely frightening (the book is very good indeed).

Campaspe said...

Dennis, if I may get sappy in a horror-movie thread for a moment, disagreeing with you must rank as one of my great blogging pleasures. That is because not only are you an unflappable gentleman about it, but you do also prompt re-examination of my little film pieties. And that is more than healthy, it is essential--or else one really does into Bosley Crowther.

Butting in, politely, on Alex & Bill's sidetrack -- my personal favorite in the Victorian horror/mystery/Gothic pantheon, Le Fanu, does not seem to have been well-served by the adaptation I saw, a rather tedious British TV "Uncle Silas" from 1987. If any of the numerous 'Carmilla' versions are worth seeing, give me a heads-up, would you?

bill said...

Campaspe - the only LeFanu (who I'm not that familiar with) adaptation I've seen was a version of "Carmilla" with Roddy MacDowall and, I think, Meg Tilly (and possibly even Ione Skye). It wasn't so hot.

The best DVD cover I've ever seen in my life was for a movie called "Vampires vs. Zombies". The cover art shows the profiles of a zombie and a vampire squaring off, like the poster for a heavyweight prizefight. At the top, it says "Based on J. Sheridan Lefanu's classic vampire tale, 'Carmilla'".

Check it out: http://www.horrormovies.com/images/VampiresVsZombies.jpg

Damian said...

True, Matheson's work has been generally screwed over on film... but James's "Casting the Runes" was made into a terrific film, "Night of the Demon" (or "Curse of the Demon"). It can be done.

And don't forget Duel.

Steve said...

Saw this last night and was surprised -- this is essentially the torture-porn (ooh!) genre reaching self-awareness. The Mattarazzo interlude is unfortunate, and Roth still has a lot of development ahead of him; nevertheless, I think this is a step forward.

More later, possibly... (I'm bummed I missed all this discussion already!)

CINEBEATS said...

I still haven't had a chance to see Hostel 2 myself but it seems to be suffering from the same fate that Grindhouse did and frankly, I think that's a shame. Hopefully I’ll make to the theater soon. Both Hostel 2 and Grindhouse at least look more entertaining than a lot of the garbage currently making money at the box office so I don’t understand the lack of interest. Of course the term "garbage" is debatable but as a woman I've got to say that I personally find the concept of the comedy Knocked Up a hell of a lot more offensive than Hostel 2. Of course I haven't seen Knocked Up so I'll defer from passing judgment on it.

I did want to mention how disappointed I am when I see film lovers in this thread as well as other critics, bloggers, etc. rather brutally criticizing movies they've never even bothered to see. A lot of the criticism about Hostel (as well as films like Irréversible), Roth and horror cinema in general that I've read lately has been rather sad to read. Oh well...

As for Bava, I wanted to mention that if you haven't seen a lot of Bava films Dennis I think it's best to start at the beginning of his filmography. Of course you're limited by what films are available, but I would start with the great gothic thriller and monster movie he made with Riccardo Freda. I Vampiri (1956) and Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959). From there you can work your way chronologically through his other horror films and thrillers. I highly recommend Black Sunday (1960), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966), Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), Twitch of the Death Nerve (1972) and Shock (1977). I happen to also really like the two horror films he made with Elke Sommer, Baron Blood (1972) and Lisa and the Devil (1973), but fair warning - I seem to be in the minority so you might want to avoid them.

Of course you should also check out his terrific spy spoof Danger: Diabolik (1968), his great sexy comedy Four Times That Night (1972) which was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon as well as his entertaining western Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1975) to see what else Bava was capable of.

Last but not least, if you can enjoy old-fashioned, but stylish action pictures I also recommend Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) and Knives of the Avenger (1966).

As much as I love horror films, I kind of think it's a shame that he wasn't able to make more films outside the genre since he clearly had wide-ranging skills as a filmmaker.

Hope these suggestions are useful! I expect you've seen a few of the ones I mentioned, but either way, I'm envious of the films you might be experiencing for the first time in the future. You've got some incredible viewing ahead of you!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'll cop to the charge of prejudging Irreversible as far as simply not wanting to see it based on what I've read in reviews and heard from responsible critics and friends who have seen it. But I draw the line at saying it's a bad movie or an irresponsible one, because I don't know firsthand and, because I simply don't want to put myself through it, I doubt I ever will.

Now, for a real festival of folks prejudging a movie (in the negative AND the positive), you really must check out the long string of comments behind the Poland column. As of last Thursday, when I printed out the comments, Poland was the only one who has anything to say who had actually seen the movie, albeit on a bootlegged DVD of a workprint that, in at least one instance I can think of, varied from the movie that was actually released. The rest of the comments (163 pages worth, and that's only, as I say, as of Thursday) were submitted by people who HADN'T seen the movie and were judging it as either acceptable or mindless gutter trash apparently based on Roth's previous two movies or the ubiquitous advertising campaign. Even so, there are a few exchanges amidst all the clutter that were actually worth following, but I don't know if I've got the stamina or the time to print out and read all the comments that surely followed in the wake of the film's release.

As of this evening, I now have access to my blog at home again, but I really should do some studying first before committing much time to this. But what I'm grateful for is the civility of the exchange on this site so far regarding the movie-- the Poland thread devolves several times into ridiculous name-calling and other scurvy tactics that just aren't useful to the kind of discussion that should be going on about a movie that pushes these kinds of buttons. Having read the comments here and at Poland's site, I feel like at the very least there's a sense here that differing opinions will at least be respected, and that makes this one a more valuable thread to me.

(I'll try to post some brief thoughts on Hostel Part II immediately after I post this comment.)

Kimberly, thanks for the Bava syllabus. I look forward to getting to THOSE studies an lot more than my other ones, to be sure, and I will get to them! I love Planet of the Vampires and Twitch of the Death Nerve (A Bay of Blood), by the way, and Black Sunday too, though I was less enthusiastic about Baron Blood.

And, Steve, don't go away. I'm really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the Roth movie too!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And, Steve, is that anything like Skynet becoming self-aware on August 25, 1997 (or whatever date it actually was)?

CINEBEATS said...

For what it's worth, I think Irreversible is one of the best horror films - and it is a horror film - made in the last decade. I hope some day you'll watch the movie for yourself Dennis so you can make up your own mind, but you might not care for the films deeply disturbing, emotional, visceral and real world horrors that it perfectly portrays.

To be honest, after managing to make my way through Poland's review I really didn't bother reading all the comments. I found his review so unprofessional, uninformed and offensive that it was just plain hard to read. When a writer declares moral judgment over a filmmaker after buying a bootleg copy of his film, he's just shot himself in both feet and I can't believe that anyone took what he had to say seriously. I assumed that any argument that would follow his review would sort of be like watching Dumb and Dumber review films.

The chatter in your own blog about Roth was much more civil than other conversations I came across and that's terrific!

I haven't seen Hostel 2 yet so I'm avoiding your review until I do, but at this point I'm rather burnt out on the whole "torture porn" controversy as well as the personal attacks on Roth. Many critics have decided he's going to be their whipping boy and I think they've pieced together a poorly structured straw man argument against him.

I look forward to reading what you have to say about the Bava films you watch!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'm pretty burnt on the subject of Hostel too, Cinebeats, and I'm looking forward to moving on to altogether more pleasant ground. That said, I just finished the Poland thread (at least as much of it as existed on June 7), and there was, as you say, a high percentage of name-calling and lazy shorthand arguments in there, and from some fairly high-profile sources. A couple of commenters, one Dellamorte and the other, Jeff McM (who has commented here, under the Hostel post too), attempted to mount an intelligent defense not of Part II (which he and everyone else had yet to see), but of the use of violence in horror films in general, but was continually rebuffed by some pretty lame "arguments" by Variety critic Joe Leydon, whose entire thrust and parry seemed to boil down to, "Anyone who likes this kind of shit, they're way beneath me." How do you argue with someone like that?

Anyway, thanks for being a part of what I agree has been a much more civil and enjoyable and (I think) fruitful discussion. I hope to hear from you when you get to the movie yourself!