Friday, October 18, 2013

Carrie 2013

Despite being around 40 years old, "Carrie" has established itself as a timeless tale - the sort of thing that should be able to be reimagined every couple decades with the same sequence of events but the details of how kids interact tweaked to reach a newer audience.  With bullying being a constant current buzzword, a remake for today's kids was fairly inevitable.  Signing on director Kimberly Peirce who studied similar themes in the painfully powerful "Boys Don't Cry" seemed like a risk that said this version would definitely push the power of the story's themes, perhaps even at the expense of the plot.

Most people know "Carrie's morality story - an outcast teenage girl is humiliated at school when she freaks out having her first period in the locker room.  What the girls don't know is that the onset of puberty also unleashes the girl's telekinetic powers that build and build as the bullying against her continues.  Meanwhile her crazy, pseudo-religious mother torments her even more, convincing her even the most basic of human emotions are sins of the devil.  There's a prom, pig blood and tragedy.  All this is present in Peirce's version of the story, pretty much note for note.

King's story has a built in metaphorical weight - the characters are set up in broad strokes - the outcast, the pretty girl with a conscience, the pretty mean girl, the jock with the heart of gold, the well-intended teacher.  Each character falls into place pretty much as expected and it certainly creates an explosive mix.  There's a heightened reality to the story, making it more of a parable than anything.  Peirce's mistake is in how she presents the characters - instead of elevating them, she lowers everyone, making them presumably more realistic, but diluting the power of the character interactions and thus lessening the impact of the story's powerhouse climax.  That the movie feels more polite than mean-spirited and more like an after school special than a potboiler horror movie is a colossal misfire.

Really, the problems start with casting.  Chloe Grace Moretz is a talented young actress who tends to draw attention to herself in supporting roles and does that even moreso here.  No amount of crinkling her hair, taking off her makeup and frumping her posture and clothing can change the fact that Moretz is a charismatic and attractive person.  She isn't convincing as an ugly duckling and her personality is way too warm to convince that she's been kept at arm's length her entire life.  She'd really be a great Sue Snell, the character who's supposed to show a kindness beyond her looks.  As Snell herself Gabriella Wilde is a Barbie doll at most.  Judy Greer as Mrs. Desjardin, the teacher who tries her best to befriend Carrie, has more of an oddball quirkiness to her and never quite settles into any spot in the story.  She's not quite warm enough to be a convincing mother figure for Carrie, nor is she much of a foil for the bad girls populating the story.

Speaking of the bad guys, the story has two.  Carrie's mother, played here by Julianne Moore and Chris Hargensen, another student who gets off (literally) on tormenting Carrie.  This time around Hargensen is played by Portia Doubleday and she has the hateful kick of a spoiled little rich girl, although the material doesn't really ever convincingly illustrate her hatred for Carrie White.  Moore's problems are a bit like Moretz, no amount of frumping her wardrobe and self-mutilation can help the character here who is more two-dimensional than she even is on the page.  The character is interesting as a monster but trying to layer her here and trying to dial down her vicious obsession with her god and her daughter takes away her bite and, again, doesn't clarify the powder keg that Carrie finds herself living in.

And maybe that's it -- for the story to work best there needs to be a feeling that Carrie is being attacked from all sides and that even when something good happens to her - a nice, handsome boy asking her to the prom, for example - it should create that feeling that something bad's going to happen.  Here we expect something bad to happen simply because we know the story, instead of fearing something bad is going to happen because of the mood and tone of the characters and story.  

Then there's the question of Carrie White's destructive powers.  The issue here is that as she learns about her powers and learns to harness them a bit, it almost brings Carrie out of her shell, instead of driving her more deeply into it.  She starts to smile a lot, she watches videos (online of course because this is SO modern) and all of a sudden starts to feel like she belongs.  It almost feels more like a super hero learning they can fly than a terrified girl realizing she has a power that makes her even more of an outcast than she already was.  If she's not afraid of herself and her power, why should we be?  Even when doused in pig blood by Chris Hargensen's mean-spirited trick, Moretz uses magical hand gestures to use her power, like one of the X-Men.  It lacks the feeling of someone releasing primal energy trapped inside themself.  Even the pig blood itself ends up looking more like a Hollywood makeup job than it does an attack that strips her of her dignity.

There's a prom, of course, and all the insanity that comes with it.  Here, Carrie's revenge feels more controlled, more conscious an effort.  But since the character shows no darkness until that point, her sudden mean streak and deliberate attacks on people who she feels wronged her doesn't feel right.  She doesn't feel like a victim, nor does she turn into a monster, she just turns into an attacker and despite everything that's happened to her, it doesn't necessarily feel justified.  It also doesn't feel like she finally turns into a monster - unable to control the power inside her as she is unleashed on a world that created her.  Carrie White, even at her most vicious and violent, is a sympathetic character as we should be able to see the deadly series of events that created her.  This version of the story doesn't create that sensation. 

The evening's not a total loss, mind you.  There's a genuine sweetness to Alex Russell as Tommy Nolan, the teenaged heartthrob convinced by his girlfriend to take Carrie to the prom and their time together at the dance is downright charming.  He certainly has more chemistry with Moretz than he does with the icily attractive Wilde.  Early scenes with Carrie and her mother have Carrie calling out her mother's Bible-references and self-created nonsense, giving it the beginnings of an Old Testament vs. New Testament angle.  

Ulimately, though, the world created here is too TV-movie bland and the story is too pasty and dialed down to really exploits its inherent grindhouse power.  The movie posters this time around promise we will remember her name.  That might be the case, but that's not because of this version of the story.  This one's much more likely to be forgotten sooner rather than later.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

See No Evil 2 Lands Harris, Isabelle is reporting that "See No Evil 2," the sequel to 2006's WWE produced horror flick starring WWE superstar Kane, has landed both Danielle Harris and Katherine Isabelle to star.

Both actresses are well known to horror audiences, having starred in numerous genre pictures over the years.  Isabelle has worked with "See No Evil 2" directors the Soska Sisters in this year's "American Mary."

More info in the link:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Insidious 2" Brings in $41 Million Opening

On a tiny $5 million budget, James Wan's "Insidious Chapter Two" rolled over the competition to the tune of a $41 million dollar opening weekend.  Even assuming they spent a good bit on advertising, the movie is set to make a good amount of money.  Reviews were mixed, with the movie only receiving a 38% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  By comparison, the original has a 66% positive rating on the same site.

The fact is, reviews probably have little if nothing to do with interest in horror sequels, especially a first sequel.  It took "Saw" several creatively unsatisfying sequels before audiences stopped showing up and it's still uncertain what audience reactions to the new "Insidious" really are.

Meanwhile, "You're Next" is at a box office total of about $18 million.  While the movie was inexpensive, it still has to be seen as a disappointment given how successful so many mid tier horror movies have been this year.  "You're Next" was better received critically than either of the "Insidious" movies although audiences were more mixed, some being taken out of the picture by it's off-kilter tone.  Still, horror movies sell well to their hardcore audience and "You're Next" has a good chance of becoming a cult classic that does well on DVD, especially as director Adam Wingard's career goes forward.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dario Argento!

Today is horror's technicolor madman, Dario Argento's, birthday.

"Suspiria" was the first Argento movie I ever watched and, to me, is still his best.

Here's that first scene, in all its bloody glory.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Curse of Chucky

First scene from "Curse of Chucky" has been released.

I was never a big fan of the "Child's Play" movies but this one actually looks decent.  Hope it's something the fans like!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Looking At The Original Halloween Screenplay

The great website is a great library of original screenplays, including a lot of original horror scripts.  I thought it might be interesting to peruse a few of them and see what the differences actually are - starting with John Carpenter and Debra Hill's "Halloween."

I think you've all heard of that one, right?

In overview, I have to say pretty much the entire movie is here, on the page.  Most of the cuts are dialogue.

It's worth noting that Carpenter wrote the script intending to direct - I'll try and track something down later that was written without a director attached to see if those are more different.  But Carpenter wrote in his shots which if you write screenplays hoping to sell them, they tell you not to do.

The opening is a touch different - it has the POV shot moving in on the house until it focuses on a Halloween mask, which it describes as 'a large, full-head platex rubber mask, not a monster or a ghoul, but the pale neutral features of a man weirdly distorted by the rubber.'  In other words, that's the traditional Michael Meyers mask.  This moment is skipped in the movie and, instead the POV starts eyeing the house and moving in for the first kill - which is pretty much the same.

That big crane shot Carpenter talks so much about when the parents find Michael holding the knife is in the script.  Again, the way this movie was shot was not a happy accident, Carpenter was pretty meticulous about laying it out.

Dialogue between Loomis and the Nurse is a little different, nothing significant, the order's different and the scene talking about moving Michael because it's the law isn't on the page.

There's a moment in the script where Loomis talks to a patient and the patient tells him "It's all right now. He's gone.  The evil's gone."  Cool and foreboding but they moved the lines over to Loomis after the car drives away.  As written Michael's escape is a little more involved and Loomis is in the car for it.  Nothing significant though, unless you really wanted to see Donald Pleasance get punched.

The cut to Haddonfield's the same - Laurie talking to her dad then meeting up with Tommy.  Again, the tracking shots on Laurie are all laid out. The moment where they call the house 'The Meyers House' isn't in the script.  My guess it was added for clarity.

Scene with Loomis and his co-worker's the same.

Scene with Laurie in class while Michael watches is the same except the script says Laurie doodles the phrase 'Laurie Strode is lonely.'

The scenes with Tommy and the bullies and Loomis on the phone are switched in the script.

In the scene where the little boy plows into Michael, in the script Michael drops a butcher knife, covers it with his foot and picks it up. That's all cut.  The script is clear that we never see Michael's face in all of this.

The dialogue Loomis says on the phone is completely different - in the script it's more like he's calling home, instead of calling in another warning.  The script doesn't note the dead body left behind at all.

Girls' chatter walking down the street is pretty much the same, scene with Laurie seeing Michael, then Annie going up behind the bush to see him is the same.  Scene with Sheriff Brackett's the same.

Script has a two or three line exchange with Laurie and her mother that's cut as the movie itself moves right upstairs to Laurie seeing Michael amongst the neighbor's drying laundry.

Again, there's an order switch - in the screenplay Loomis goes to the graveyard before Annie picks up Laurie, which is switched in the final cut.

Scene with Brackett, the girls and Loomis is the same.

One of the funny moments in the movie is the abrupt cut from dusk to dark when the girls are driving around - one seond it's nice, they turn a corner and it's pitch black.  In the script, that whole conversation about Ben Tramer is supposed to be at night, after a shot showing the moon to make it clear it's night.  No idea why it was moved to dusk.  But it does make it seem like Michael follows them for a loooong time.

Michael getting out of the car and watching the Wallace's is the same.

Loomis and Brackett's dialogue is mostly the same, although the bit where Loomis says he has a gun permit isn't in the script.

Nothing new for awhile - Laurie and Annie on the phone, with Michael outside and Tommy seeing The Boogeyman is essentially the same.  The dog getting it's the same.

Not a lot of changes as time goes on - there really isn't a lot of dialogue at this point, it's mostly shots.

The scene where Michael watches Annie go into the house where Laurie is he's also supposed to have a knife.  Interesting that in the two scenes where Michael's supposed to have a knife, instead of showing the weapon, they used that hot scare with the factory whistle sound as a replacement.  The whistle's more jarring, especially since so much of the movie is pretty quiet to this point.

The set-up and delivery of Annie getting killed is about the same, although the script has a short scene where her dad calls, probably there to give Michael more time to sneak into the car.  Annie's death is a little different in the script, in the script Michael just pops up, covers her mouth with his hand and stabs her in the throat.

Scene with the kids and Laurie is the same.

Kids playing around the Meyers's house is the same, other than the script has the kid saying "bullshit" instead of "bull."  Loomis and Brackett is the same.

Lynda and Bob is the same - long sequences like this take up so much space in a screenplay.

Bob getting killed is the same.  No, Michael looking back and forth at his dead body is not in the screenplay.

The next long stretches are pretty much the same.  Loomis finds the car, Laurie goes over to the Wallace house, she has her first confrontation with Michael and then runs back across the street to the Doyle house.  All that's right there.

In fact, the entire climax is pretty much as written, which is a testament to Carpenter.  This is very much a director's screenplay, all the cuts and action are right there.

Anyway, if you're so inclined, peruse the screenplay sometime and see how many little decisions got made along the way to tighten the screenplay into what is now "Halloween."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back For the Attack

Ok, I'm going to get this thing rolling again here ASAP, especially as Halloween approaches.  My hope is to do more than just reviews - I mean, reviews are fine, I actually like writing reviews, but there are a lot of reviews out there.

I'll probably do a 'Favorite Horror Movie' countdown in October.  Emphasis on FAVORITE, so it's not a BEST list.  I don't know what's the best, but I know what I love.

I've also found a good amount of screenplay drafts online.  (They're not hard to find.)  Still, a lot of them are pretty interesting glimpses into how movies are made and what things get cut and what things don't.  Dialogue in particular tends to run long in original screenplays but actors can often reduce the need for so many words.

Anyway, I'm still here and going to try to make my corner of the horror web count.