Friday, October 30, 2015

Twenty-Four-Hour Marathon of Horror

If you follow the site, you know the drill. As much time as I devote to the Academy Awards and the fall festivals and prestige dramas and all that, I am as fiercely devoted to horror. It is a much-maligned genre due to the sheer volume of content. It cannot all be great, but I will take the best horror over the best drama any day because more often than not, it is horror that will make you genuinely feel something. There is no stronger emotion than fear, and great horror delivers it in spades.

Last year, Last Cinema Standing brought you the 31 Days of Horror, a month-long celebration of the genre. The response was great, but this year, I decided on something a little less time-intensive for me and for you. This time, I thought I would focus all my attention on Halloween and deliver a concentrated dose of terror in one nifty package. So, Last Cinema Standing presents the Twenty-Four-Hour Marathon of Horror.

Here are the rules: 1) The first movie starts at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. 2) Five-minute breaks allowed after every movie for snacks, micro-naps, and to change the disc. 3) Three 25-minute meal breaks. 4) Have fun.

Okay, there is a slim likelihood anyone is actually going to attempt this. I know that. You know that. So, I have broken up the day into four sections. If you are looking for a quicker shot of horror, pick out a group and enjoy.

Home is where the horror is

Our homes are where we should feel safest, but in the middle of the night, when it is dark, there are few things scarier than the unknown horrors lurking in the shadows of your house. We kick off our marathon with a trio of tales about threats from within and without the home from ghosts, demons, and your average, everyday murderers.

Midnight: The Haunting (directed by Robert Wise; 112 minutes)

The Haunting
There is an argument to be made Wise is the greatest B-movie director of all time. On his resume already is probably the greatest science-fiction B movie of all time, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and with this, he made an indelible mark on the horror genre. With limited resources but unlimited ingenuity, Wise essentially set the template for the haunted-house genre, and all the way up through this year’s Crimson Peak, it has been emulated but never equaled.

1:57 a.m.: The Virgin Spring (directed by Ingmar Bergman; 89 minutes)

This has been remade a couple times as Last House on the Left, once very well by Wes Craven in 1972 and once not so well in 2009. When asked about remaking Bergman’s tragic tale of family loyalty and revenge, Craven correctly pointed out Bergman was adapting a centuries-old fable. Maybe so, but in his entire career, Bergman never made anything that did not feel completely his own. As much about faith and the morality of vengeance as it is mayhem and death, The Virgin Spring is the work of a great director trying his hand a new genre and almost incidentally making a masterpiece.

3:31 a.m.: Paranormal Activity (directed by Oren Peli; 86 minutes)

Found footage gets a bad rap. Critics see it as cheap and gimmicky, and some audiences find it literally stomach churning. Like anything else, there is the potential for trash, but at its best, found footage puts you right inside the horror and provides an experience little else can match. Last year, I used the Spanish film [Rec] as an example of great found footage. Paranormal Activity is equally strong. Even its many sequels maintain a high level of quality, which is rare for a horror series. This is the kind of movie after which you leave the lights on when you go to bed – if you can sleep at all.

5:02 a.m.: Breakfast

If I were cleverer, I might suggest something horror related for your meal, but honestly, if you are trying this marathon, maybe you would be best served by a pot of coffee. Although, some Count Chocula or Franken Berry cereal might give you the sugar rush you need to get through the next 19 hours.

Trilogy of terror

I talked about anthologies last year when writing about Mario Bava’s great old horror masterpiece Black Sabbath. In talking about that film, I mentioned how the subgenre was making a comeback. Collected here are three recent entries that stretch the format in different directions to arrive at the same conclusion – terror.

5:27 a.m.: V/H/S (various directors; 116 minutes)

If you follow independent cinema, you are probably familiar with a great little subgenre known as mumble-core, which admittedly is a bit of a pejorative moniker. Anyway, an offshoot of that is mumble-gore, in which most of the same directors indulge their blood-and-guts fantasies. The films are low key, low budget, and high value. Ti West and Adam Wingard are two stalwarts of mumble-gore, and they contribute two of the best sequences to V/H/S, a tremendous little found-footage anthology. The lo-fi conceit only adds to the unsettling mix of tension and gore.

7:28 a.m.: Three … Extremes (various directors; 118 minutes)

On the far other end of the spectrum from V/H/S is Three … Extremes, an austere trilogy of horror shorts from three Asian masters – Fruit Chan (China), Chan-wook Park (South Korea), and Takashi Miike (Japan). Where the tendency for most directors of horror is to go grimier and bloodier, these three shorts are highly stylized, brilliantly realized visions that shock primarily because the violence comes seemingly from out of nowhere. Though separated by geography, Three … Extremes is held together by the unnerving fact that nothing is sacred and no one is safe.

9:31 a.m.: The ABCs of Death (various directors; 129 minutes)

The idea is simple: 26 directors or teams of directors each take a letter of the alphabet and create a horror short based on it. Titles include “A is for Apocalypse,” “S is for Speed,” and “H is for Hyrdro-Electric Diffusion.” West and Wingard are back, as well as greats such as Xavier Gens and Srdjan Spasojevic. For featuring 26 unrelated shorts, the strike rate is remarkably high. Even the less successful stories are interesting, and if one does not do it for you, another is right around the corner. I would caution: On the whole, this is not for the faint of heart.

11:45 a.m.: Lunch
There are not a lot of horror options when it comes to lunch, are there? I suppose you could have another bowl of Count Chocula. If you are still with me at this point, probably just grab a sandwich and another pot of coffee.

Stranger danger

One of the first things we learn as children is not to talk to strangers. It is a good lesson. If you find yourself in a horror movie, it is a lesson that may save your life. Here is a group of movies about people who mostly did not learn their lesson. By coincidence, each of these three movies has been remade to wildly varying degrees of success. Invariably, however, these originals are superior.

12:10 p.m.: The Crazies (directed by George Romero; 103 minutes)

The Crazies
Romero is rightly known for his zombie films – the Dead series – but his work outside the zombie subgenre is just as valuable. The Crazies concerns a small town in Pennsylvania overrun by a virus created by the military. It causes insanity in the infected and turns neighbors into strangers. When the army comes to town, it becomes even harder to tell the allies from the enemies. The Crazies is a fantastic, paranoid thriller that proves Romero is a great director, no matter the genre.

1:43 p.m.: The Wicker Man (directed by Robin Hardy; 88 minutes)

You are no doubt familiar with the 2006 remake of this film, starring Nicolas Cage, which popular opinion would have you believe is one of the worst movies ever made. While being very bad, I promise you it does not reach those depths. It simply is a victim of being easy to ridicule when some of its more outlandish elements are taken out of context. That said – Hardy’s original is without compare. It is moody and creepy and perfectly captures the era in which it was made in its tale of a devout puritan confronted with carnality and carnage.

3:16 p.m.: Funny Games (directed by Michel Haneke; 108 minutes)

I briefly touched on Funny Games and its excellent shot-for-shot remake, also directed by Haneke, here. It deserves the extra mention. A wealthy couple and their young son drive up to their vacation home and are greeted by two well bred teenagers they do not know. Things go downhill from there as the family is terrorized for no other reason than because they are there. The horror comes from the callousness of the intruders and the relentlessness of their attack. This is bleak stuff.

Demon to lean on

This is my favorite section here. It features three of my all-time favorite horror movies and the one film I would say scared me the most when I was young. These are movies about demons, which are a perfect horror movie villain because they are implacable. They are beings of pure malevolence and lack either reason or sympathy.

5:09 p.m.: Child’s Play (directed by Tom Holland; 87 minutes)

Child's Play
Time for a little personal history here: From the time I was about 3 or 4 years old, when I first saw this movie, until about five or six years ago, I would have said this movie was the scariest movie I had ever seen. Two things happened then – first, I had seen many more movies; second, the sequels to Child’s Play grew ever-more comedic, which lessened the horror in my memory of the original.

However, I sat down on the eve of my 24th birthday with my best friend and Last Cinema Standing contributor Sean Patrick Leydon for a nostalgic viewing of the film that so terrified me when I was young. It is still terrifying.  Nothing has changed over the years in that image of a murderous doll with a knife. It is still a murderous doll with a knife, and it is just as horrific.

6:41 p.m.: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (directed by Wes Craven; 112 minutes)

Man, I miss Craven, who died just two months ago. I was struck by his death again when I was coming up with titles for this piece. No other modern director screams horror like Craven, so it would be a crime to leave him off the list. The only trouble is in choosing, and since he left so many great films to pick from, I chose the one with the most meaning for me personally, which you can read about here. What is great about New Nightmare is that it brings Freddy Krueger into the “real world” as a demon who takes the form of a horror movie monster. It restores to Freddy Krueger the terror he inspired in the original film and makes it more visceral and intense. I love this film.

8:38 p.m.: Dinner

I have been in New York too long. Tell me: Does Papa Murphy’s still do that promotion where you get a medium pepperoni pizza, and they put a little jack-o-lantern face on there in pepperoni? I love that. If you can, get that, and think of me. I will be having New York pizza, which is no one’s idea of a good time. I miss your crust, California.

9:03 p.m.: Drag Me to Hell (directed by Sam Raimi; 99 minutes)

Under normal circumstances, here is where I would insert an Evil Dead movie or two, but the only rule I set for myself in creating this list was to avoid using anything I used in the 31 Days of Horror, the object being to discuss as many different movies as possible. So, instead, we have Drag Me to Hell, Raimi’s triumphant return to the horror genre after nearly a decade away directing Spider-man movies. He did not lose a step. If anything, the tricks he learned on the big-budget superhero movies translated beautifully to the low-budget horror genre for a perfect hybrid of the two.

10:32 p.m.: My Name Is Bruce (directed by Bruce Campbell; 84 minutes)

Finally, the man Raimi launched to stardom, Campbell steps behind the camera for his second directorial feature, and it is an awesome mix of slapstick humor, cheesy Saturday morning serial, and B-movie horror. This is a horror movie that is mostly about what it is like to be a horror movie fan, and I cannot think of any better way to end a marathon like this.

END – 11:56 p.m.

Well, there are four minutes left in the day. Maybe pet your dog or have some candy or something. If you have made it to the end, you deserve something nice.

Happy Halloween.

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