Film Review: Let Me In

Film Review:
Let Me In–R
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz,
Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas
115 Minutes, Feature Film
Hammer Films

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The American film remake sub-genre is, generally speaking, a film industry cop out. Take an inspired (or uninspired) original source–films generally carrying the word “classic” in their notoriety–and present a new and updated version to an audience that studios predict will pay money to see a film they have already seen. While exceptions can be found, most remakes fail to best their source material, the horror genre being the best example.

In the past decade we have seen remakes of more than a dozen universally lauded classics in the horror and thriller genre. Most appeared to be nothing more than opportunities to cash in on a film’s preexisting reputations; seldom did these films shed new light on the classic story. To this end a remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire/coming of age film, “Let the Right One End” seemed pointless and actually offensive to a perfectly fine film that just happens to have subtitles.

Matt Reeves “Let Me In” is a surprisingly rare breed of remakes. Its source material is indeed from foreign soil, which, too, is another sub-genre within the remake sub-genre of horror. Following in the footsteps of such successes as the wave of Japanese ghost story remakes like “The Ring” or “Dark Water,” “Let Me In” hopes to attract a new audience, one not expected to have sat through the subtitles of the original, to this refreshingly unique take on vampire lore.

It’s also a rare breed of remakes in that scene for scene “Let Me In” is almost a direct retelling of its predecessor. Its flow is uniform as are many of the original’s memorable shots. Like its source material, “Let Me In” is set in a cold, empty place (here, Los Alamos, New Mexico, filling in for the desolate suburb of Stockholm). It’s an understandably bleak environment for what on the surface is a terribly bleak story, one that has climaxes that are both triumphant and despairing.

Owen (“The Road’s” Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young, lonely and bored boy. He spends his days fleeing from bullies; avoiding his overly preachy, wine-o mother; spying on neighbors through his apartment’s very own “rear window;” and indulging in the one thing that seems to bring him comfort, his Now & Later fruit chews.

When a young and mysterious girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) arrives one frigid night observed walking barefoot through the snowy courtyard, Owen’s world suddenly becomes all the more interesting.

The friendship that forms is the essence of what makes this story (the original was based off a best-selling Swedish vampire novel) so unprecedented in vampire iconography. This isn’t the 90201-themed love triangle of the “Twilight” series, nor does it attempt to be a clever comment on society a la HBO’s breakout hit series, “True Blood.”

“Let Me In” is a love story like “Harold and Maude” is a love story. It is a coming of age story in the same austere way Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel, “The Road” is. More to the point, it doesn’t glamorize the vampire lifestyle, but rather shows it as a cruel infliction on everyone involved, both physically and mentally.

While some alterations are made from “Let the Right One In” (a strange scene from the original involving a pack of wild cats is smartly removed this time around) the filmmakers respectfully mirror the original, swapping for a Reagan era small town U.S.A setting and throwing a larger budget to the production (a particularly effective shot from the back of a car as it slides out of control stands out).

Director Matt Reeves drops snippets of Reagan’s famous, “Evil Empire” speech early on in the film, a speech in which the former President acknowledges evil’s existence in the world. This is not merely a way to present the setting. Whether or not the characters believe or know there is definite evil in the world is beside the point; they don’t understand it. In “Let Me In” things aren’t as black and white as good and evil.

Religion is hinted at throughout the film, primarily with the word evil being tossed around. Owen’s mother is hardly seen or heard from in this film because she is not entirely there for her son. She is struggling with her own beliefs and her weakness for the bottle. She sees and believes in the evils of the world but yet doesn’t care enough to protect her own son who ultimately turns to violent acts to solve his own confrontations with the evil that hears about but doesn’t quite understand.

We see early on where his character is headed in terms of his budding kinship to Abby who, as she puts it so eloquently, has been twelve years old for a very long time. To say much more would spoil the film’s intrigue. To tread lightly, this is a film that leaves the viewer wondering about the decisions made by its characters after the credits roll.

“Let Me In” features a stellar cast including the great character actors Elias Koteas (“The Thin Red Line”) as a curious, soft spoken policeman, and Richard Jenkins (HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) as Abby’s mysterious father-like caretaker. Here both men play somber and serious men who don’t quite understand what is happening around them, but are drawn into the fold nevertheless. In one scene Jenkin’s protector character pleads with Abby not to see Owen again. It’s a simple exchange of words that manages to tell so much about his past with her and his understanding that after he’s gone she will still be.

“Let the Right One In” is a masterful little horror film that should be seen by all fans of the genre. On its own, “Let Me In” stands up surprisingly well but ultimately feels like an easy way around trying one’s hand at a foreign language film. It’s a far more insightful film than anything else you might see this Halloween season and hopefully will pique the curiosity of its viewers enough to seek out the original.

Returning to the Lost Highway

ImageThe late author and culture commentator David Foster Wallace once wrote, “The absence of point or recognizable agenda in David Lynch’s films lets Lynch get inside your head in a way movies normally don’t.” “Lost Highway,” Lynch’s seventh feature film, does just this and resonates in your subconscious long after the first viewing.

This is the grand trick of David Lynch. While disguised as motion pictures, Lynch’s films are more an exercise of the inner psyche than anything else–a film going experience rather than merely just an entertaining piece of cinema.

Trying to classify the films of David Lynch is one of those futile exercises that is undoubtedly part of the reason his works are so polarizing for filmgoers. Neo-noir is a term that has been thrown around when discussing Lynch–an appropriate tag for a handful of his films, mainly Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, but still just the icing on the cake when looking at his canon more closely. Many have applauded Lynch as a master of suspense–a modern day Hitchcock who can make the most unassuming scenes or situations frightening through the masterfully crafted use of sound, lighting, and camera trickery.

To say however that Lynch makes horror films, in the traditional sense of the medium, is like pinning Tarantino down to one sole genre. Lynch has always drawn from a number of influences molding them into a truly one of a kind final product. Lost Highwaymay be Lynch’s closest attempt at true horror but in end is yet another genre bending, mind-blowing experience that tugs at your emotions and senses long after the first viewing.

For the record I have seen Lost Highway at least five times. It’s not because it is a masterpiece, or that I’m some kind of Lynch fanatic (although admittedly I have always garnered a child like fascination for the director’s work) it’s because like all great filmsLost Highway keeps you guessing and pondering long after each viewing. Trying to make sense of a Lynch film is often as pointless as trying to get to the soul of a Pollack painting–it’s best to just let the work suck you into its world.

Like many of Lynch’s works Highway fails to follow the linear formula of the average movie. The first half plays out like a creepy home invasion thriller. Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette play a married couple confronted with a terrifying scenario after finding videotapes on their doorstep every morning featuring footage of their home’s interior and of them asleep in bed (the mere thought of this premise sends shivers down the spine). Both are typical inhabitants of the Lynchian world. He being a jealous, rage filled soul, she being of the sexy femme fatale type.

After Lynch introduces the menacing Mystery Man, a simple but horrifying pale-faced Robert Blake sans eyebrows, the film takes a sharp turn in terms of storyline (a good Lynch film will always have at least one WTF moment that turns the film’s flow upside down, and Lost Highway does this with flying colors at the film’s halfway point).

ImageThe second half of the film follows a completely new character played by Balthazar Getty, a promising young actor during the mid 90s who has since disappeared. Getty’s Pete character may or may not be the reincarnation or alter ego of Pullman’s Fred character, this tasty tidbit is just part of what one must chew on long after the first viewing. The film’s final act is also familiar Lynch territory showing the dark underbelly of society, in this case modern day Los Angeles, a world inhabited by mob bosses, pornography director’s who may or may not also dabble in snuff, and yet another tempting femme fatale, this time with Arquette re-imagined as a blonde.

The allure of Lost Highway is the difficult task of interpreting everything that Lynch throws at the viewer during the film’s two-hour plus run time. Released after the media frenzy of the OJ Simpson trial, many people believe Highway to be a reflection of lust-fueled murder, and escaping the consequences. Some look at it as a more basic example of marital woes including jealous and how these dark emotions will ultimately swallow your soul (the looming mystery man character seems to be a representation of the dark side of the human psyche). Finally careful viewers of Lynch films might view Lost Highway as the surreal nightmare world imagined (and/or lived) by a sinful man.

Lynch has always been interested in the idea of escapism, dream worlds, and then the idea that all surrealism is rooted to a harsh reality. Mulholland Drive was a surreal allegory for the pitfalls of the Hollywood dream and the seedy underbelly of L.A.’s bourgeois society. Blue Velvet and later the masterful Twin Peaks television series showed the evil of small town America, erasing all cliché misconceptions about suburbia and the blue-collar proletariat. Lost Highway is, at its core, about what Lynch views is the modern marriage–filled with jealousy, lust, a lack of communication and trust between spouses and ultimately the wrath that unfolds. Along the way Lynch takes the viewer on a mind-bending roller coaster.

“Lost Highway” is often overlooked amidst the auteur’s more renowned films but it remains one of his most puzzling and definitely his creepiest. While not a horror movie Lost Highway is one of the most suspenseful films out there, creating an uneasy feeling that lasts throughout the film and long after the viewing. Much of this can be attributed to Lynch’s use of light and shadow and the film’s eerie soundtrack-a blend of Angelo Badalamenti’s creepy sonic ballads and 90s industrial rock.

Lost Highway was recently given a formal U.S. DVD after years of being restricted solely to international DVDs and older videotape copies. While one could go fork over ten bucks to see Saw V or any other predictable horror film inhabiting theaters and televisions this Halloween, a trip down Lynch’s Lost Highway will tug at your emotions like no film before it and possibly well into the future, until of course we get the next Lynch experience. The film is not for everyone and requires more focus than what the average popcorn moviegoer might expect but the payoff is worth it and like all great pieces of art (and Lynch has always been an art house auteur) the film keeps you guessing long after the closing credits.

Top Ten Underrated Thrillers

(Article written for in time for Halloween)

Horror movies are some of the most consistent pieces of the film industry. Sure there have been highs and lows in the genre, and resurgences have come and gone, but one thing remains true: people will always yearn for those cinematic chills.

The demand, however big it may be, is always constant. The golden age of cinema through the 60s brought on big studio monster movies, sly noir thrillers, and of course, Hitchcockian suspense (a subgenre, respectively). The 1970s, arguably the paramount epoch of cinema, period, saw the expansion of the genre and gave filmgoers some of the best nail biters out there.

The creation of VHS and movie rental houses triggered a massive wave of low-budget, schlock video nasties from across the globe during the 1980s and helped spawn the current highly exploitative, gross-out horror phase that horror movies are stuck in now. Then there were the 90s, dominated by a fairly lame return to teen slasher films-the Party of Five horror heyday.

Some say the new millennium has been a breath of fresh air for the genre with an overall rise in popularity of no holds barred gore fests (Saw, uh hum, V opens soon) and a surge of film curiosities coming from East Asia, aka. the “fear the black haired ghost chick with eerie feline larynx” genre. It could be said that the horror of today is more focused on shock than on scares. Still, over the years (despite a saturated market of genre films) there have been a fair share of gems that managed to break through to stand the test of time.

The following is a run down of some of the most underrated thrillers out there. Some have a large niche following, others have gone under the radar for too long, but all are worthy of checking out this Halloween season.

Lost Highway – David Lynch, 1997
Lost Highway
Trying to classify the films of David Lynch is one of those futile exercises that is part of the reason his work is so polarizing for filmgoers. Lynch does not make horror films in the traditional sense of the genre but he is a master of crafting horrifying scenes and psychologically disturbing stories. “Lost Highway” is often overlooked amidst the auteur’s more renowned films but it remains one of his creepiest. Much of this can be attributed to Robert Blake’s bone chilling portrayal of the Mystery Man-a pale-faced spook with shaved eyebrows and a knack for videotaping people while they sleep. Add this to an eerie soundtrack-a blend of Angelo Baldamenti’s creepy sonic ballads and 90s industrial rock-and menacing cinematography and you get what is not so much a horror movie but rather a surreal, nightmarish, and mind bending viewing experience. The late author and culture commentator David Foster Wallace once wrote, “The absence of point or recognizable agenda in David Lynch’s films lets Lynch get inside your head in a way movies normally don’t.” “Lost Highway” does just this and resonates in your subconscious long after the first viewing.”

Suspiria – Dario Argento, 1977
Dario Argento has always been an atmospheric weaver of gruesome films, which are drenched with stylized cinematic technique. From a storytelling point of view his films are full of plot holes, laughable dialogue and the kind of low-brow over dubbing that was the norm of so many 70s genre flicks. “Suspiria” is no exception. It is, however, one of the most frightening films for the senses. Already an established giallo or crime genre filmmaker, “Suspiria” was Argento’s first foray into the supernatural, blending classic ghost story themes with eye piercing gore. Thanks to a driving score from Euro prog-rockers Goblin and a visionary color and shadow palette, “Suspiria” manages to make some of the most unassuming moments truly hair-raising. A blind man walks a dog in an empty plaza, the protagonist is awoken to a spine chilling wheezing sound, even the creepy Bavarian dance school where the film is set carries the kind of unsettling gothic feel to arise suspicion during the daylight scenes. A possible remake is in talks with indie filmmaker David Gordon Green at the helm, but nothing will ever come close to capturing the brutal suspense of Suspiria.

Jacob’s Ladder – Adrian Lyne, 1990
Jacob's Ladder
Lyne is often painted as an erotic thriller filmmaker thanks to films like Fatal Attraction andUnfaithful but his true masterpiece is this little psychological thriller. Tim Robbins (in one of his best performances) plays a Vietnam Vet who is forced to deal with some inner demons, literally, and uncover some haunting discoveries about his past. The film deals with paranoia, the use of mind altering drugs, the collapse of the human psyche and true-life conspiracy theories regarding government experiments on American GIs in Vietnam. Going more into the plot might spoil the movie, which is best viewed fresh but it should be noted that one of many horrific dream sequences set in a hellish hospital ward remains one of the most frightening sequences on celluloid.

The Fly – David Cronenberg, 1986
The Fly
To be fair Cronenberg’s gross-out remake of a mediocre, late-50s Vincent Price sci-fi vehicle is widely considered to be one of the best monster films of time. Those who view it as just that are missing Cronenberg’s true raison d’etre. The film is an allegory for themes of madness, romantic jealousy, the pitfalls of modern science, the deterioration of the human anatomy (flesh has long been one of Cronenberg’s many twisted fascinations) and even abortion and fear of childbirth (as seen through a truly horrifying larvae labor sequence). Then again it also lives up to its clichéd monster movie tagline of, “be afraid, be very afraid.” An operatic stage re-imagining of the film is in the works but there is no replacing Cronenberg’s grotesque but strangely poetic vision of modern day horror.

The Descent – Neil Marshall, 2005
The Descent
Amidst a slew of procedural teen slasher flicks, remakes of Asian ghost stories, and countless torture porn gore fests there are a handful of modern day horror films that have joined the ranks of some of the staple horror classics. “The Descent” is one of these recent examples. Tagged as the ultimate spelunking nightmare film, “The Descent” is a one of a kind terrifying experience that taps into that exhilarating emotion of fear-fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of tight spaces, fear of heights, etc. Sure the film features subterranean Gollum like monsters brutally terrorizing a group of fearless cave explorers, but the real horror comes in the films claustrophobic moments (an homage to Alien) as the characters descend deeper into the crevices of the unknown. By the time the monster element to the story arrives halfway into the film the viewer is already exhausted from the nail biting climbing sequences and that mounting sense of unavoidable doom that the protagonists are soon to face. See also Marshall’s premiere outing, Dog Soldiers, a smart little werewolf flick shot in Scottish forests.

Wait Until Dark – Terrence Young, 1966
Wait Until DarkOne might not consider the oh-so-dainty Audrey Hepburn as being a horror movie icon but witnessing her shear brilliance in Wait Until Dark changes on all common misconceptions. Adapted to film (the original text was a play) during the grand old days of simply told tales of suspense, Dark is horrifying account of trust, loneliness and overcoming a physical disadvantage during harsh times. Hepburn stars as the blind tenant of a dimly lit basement apartment who is drawn into a home invasion scheme perpetrated by a gang of drug smugglers trying to track down some lost goods. The storyline is not without its flaws but the film is all about moments of intense shock, often shot in the dark. When the film was released theater patrons around the country killed the house lights during crucial moments of terror on screen as a neat little gimmick to enhance the experience. While not as grisly as the horror of today, this is film is an essential viewing for Hitchcock enthusiasts and those who like jumping out of their seats.

Repulsion – Roman Polanski, 1965
RepulsionPolanski is generally credited for Rosemary’s Baby, an essential in the genre, respectively but two of his lesser known works, 1976s The Tenant and “Repulsion,” remain his unspoken masterpieces. Repulsion is, above all, a disturbing look at psychological trauma induced by sexual angst. The film was the first in what has now been coined Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” (“Baby” and The Tenant completed the run) due to its characters trip to madness in a confined space. “Repulsion’s” Carol (played by a very young Catherine Deneuve) is trapped inside a surreal world of paranoia, ill thoughts of her sister’s sexual habits and some external threats from male visitors. A scene involving a dark hallway with hands suddenly reaching out through the walls, boxing our protagonist in, is one of the film’s many unexpected scares.

Session 9 – Brad Anderson, 2001
Session 9Director Brad Anderson may be one of the most underappreciated thriller filmmakers working today. His most recent film, Transsiberian, is a sly “fear of travel” picture set largely on a confined Soviet train en route from China to Moscow and 2004s The Machinist (featuring one ofChristian Bale’s finest performances to date) was the type of twisty psychological thriller that someone like M. Night Shyamalan wishes he was still making. Session 9 remains one of the best modern ghost stories that actually avoids the supernatural. Set inside an extremely creepy and perfectly chosen mental hospital this film is dripping with atmospheric frights. The camera follows a group of asbestos removers as they roam the abandoned wards and discover secrets from the hospital’s twisted past, while also uncovering their own personal mysteries. Anderson is all about building a feasible story (in this case one part Poltergeist one part Blair Witch) and then destroying all preconceptions towards the climax. The scenes filmed at night (in that nauseating handheld camerawork style) are certain to draw unease no matter how well seasoned you are at scary movies.

The Begotten – E. Elias Merhige, 1991
The BegottenArguably the most obscure films on this list, “The Begotten” is a visually horrifying but fascinating piece of the avant-garde that is, dare I say, biblical horror. God, Mother Earth, mortal man, and evil humanoids make up the dialogue-free story, which plays out as a twisted end of days scenario with the self-induced death of God opening the film. If you thought the deadly videotape featured in The Ring was creepy, “The Begotten” may or may not be for you. From a filmmaking standpoint E. Elias Merhige’s film is one of those cinematic achievements that is both dazzling and disturbing. To this day there is nothing that even remotely matches the film’s lasting effects. Shot in grainy black and white and then painstakingly altered and deconstructed during editing (Merhige has said that each minute of the film took ten hours of alteration to create the signature, almost primitive look), “The Begotten” is a mystery of a film with unforgettable nightmarish imagery. Merhige would eventually follow his masterpiece up with the interesting but overly preachy Shadow of a Vampire and the disappointing psychological serial killer vehicle Suspect Zero.Marilyn Manson enthusiasts will see much of “The Begotten” in the equally creepy music video for the song “Cryptorchid,” which Merhige helmed.

Them – David Moreau, 2006
While the international horror scene is currently favoring all films coming out of the “Extreme Asian” movement of Japan, Hong Kong and S. Korea (a subgenre which has grown rather tired thanks to recycled themes and Americanized remakes), some of the truly best thrillers are being made by the French. Them (or Ils in its native tongue) is the ultimate home invasion thriller. Set deep in the woods of Romania (always an effective setting for horror) the film involves a French couple being plagued by a group of hooded evildoers who raid the large farm house and make lots of goose bump inducing noises along the way. The focus on silence interrupted by man made sounds (party noisemakers never sounded freakier) is part of this film’s charm not to mention the director’s knack for crafting quick, jump out of the shadow scares. Clocking in at a surprisingly appropriate 77-minutes, this film benefits from edge of your seat tension that erupts in the film’s opening and carries through to the end.

David Gordon Green’s Curious Evolution

Before the recent release of Pineapple Express few people knew the name David Gordon Green. The director of the recent Seth Rogen buddy-stoner-action-comedy has been a hopeful indie director for the past decade or so ever since his coming of age film George Washington blew critics away back in 2000. Since then Green gained notoriety and was able to secure his promising filmmaker credentials for Washington’s follow-ups. All the Real Girls featured the wonderful Zooey Deschanel and Patricia Clarkson in a sexual coming of age story of naïve love, the intense murder drama Undertow featured a surprisingly well-rounded performance from Dermot Mulroney and last year’s haunting but powerful Snow Angels showed Kate Beckinsdale’s hidden, or should we say, underused acting chops.

It seems like a big jump to go from low-budget indie dramas set in rural America (Green was raised in the deep south) to a high octane comedy about a wicked strain of marijuana but Green, with the help of scribes Rogan and producer Judd Apatow, otherwise known as the current team funny, managed to deliver. Now with a breakout summer blockbuster behind him rumors are Green is set to go down remake road with an upcoming revision of Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece Suspiria with Natalie Portman in talks to star.
To be fair, internet rumors are never as accurate or secure as they are sound. According to a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 stylized horror classic has been in the works for the past three years with little else known but that. In the wake of the Hollywood butchering of other genre classics like Michael Bay’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Rob Zombies Halloween, studio execs see horror remakes as an easy payday.
Makes sense, right? Give the film a small but efficient budget, cast some up and coming darlings to scream their heads off, use some gritty cinematography and stock up on the fake blood. This easy enough formula works for the slasher films of past (an upcoming Friday the 13th is already slated for a Friday the 13th, 2009 release) but a European gem like Suspiria is an entirely different kind of undertaking.
For starters the film is 100% European. From the eerie but almost beautiful sets (a one of a kind Bavarian ballet school that makes The Shining’s Overlook Hotel look passé), brilliant score from Italian rock band Goblin, and poorly dubbed voice over track, every piece of the film has European pulse. Sure for some it’s a corny time capsule of 70s horror films but for others it’s a slick and quite frankly a frightening masterpiece.
Purists believe a film classic like this should never be touched. Others are in the mindset that if it’s going to fall victim to remake torture than who better than a well respected filmmaker like Green.
While Green may not seem like the obvious choice to don a horror remake, most said the same about his helming of Pineapple Express, which despite some flaws was a very funny movie. To be fair the filmmaker is still a rising figure and while his past films could be classified in the real-life, family turmoil drama category (if one such sub-genre exists) he’s done his share of suspense, most notably with Undertow and Snow Angels. It’s Green’s inexperience that is also the most intriguing aspect of this production rumor.
In an interview with MTV last March, Green commented that although he agrees he’s not everyone’s obvious choice to direct a film like Suspiria, he’s been a fan of the film and Argento for quite some time and has already written a script. Green follows this up by discussing the allure of the project:
“It’s an opportunity to take all artistic excellence and be inspired by what was a low budget Italian 70’s gore movie,” he said. “Where the art world meets the violent and supernatural. I would love to get every geek that loves torture porn and every old lady in line to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to come and have this insane experience.”
The original Suspiria, like so many genre flicks of the 70s, was hardly a perfect movie. For starters most of Dario Argento’s films of the time had plot holes or plots that made little if any sense. The use of various foreign actors whose dialogue was eventually dubbed in post-production was also one of its biggest distractions (although some might tell you it’s part of the Euro-filmmaking charm). While the set design and lighting has now become Suspiria’s most unique quality, it too had its flaws due to budget limitations. What this all means is that the remake could succeed if Green modulates the issues at hand to a more modern tone while also filming with a conscious respect for the original.
The creepy soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin is another of Suspiria’s biggest draws as it plays an equally important role in the film as the actors and production design. Its combination of eerie keyboard riffs and wild tribal drumming combined with the band’s stirring screams and mumbles make it one of the finest, albeit chilling scores of all time. Will a new original score be developed? Would Green seek out Goblin for a 21st century version of the music?
The other curious side to this news is the potential casting of Natalie Portman in the lead as the American ballet student in a foreign land, Suzy Bannion. Portman is an actress who has taken some chances on project choices over the years. Getting her start in a overly stylized assassin action flick (The Professional) by French master Luc Besson and later signing on for V for Vendetta shows Portman’s willingness to try different genres and also makes this casting choice yet another intriguing part of projects growth. The original Suzy Bannion, also played by an American actress (Jessica Harper), starred alongside an almost entirely international cast of unknowns. This same formula of using unfamiliar actors could also work in the remakes advantage.
It’s very cool to watch a young, up-and-coming filmmaker like David Gordon Green evolve before our eyes. It took him a bit to get into the Hollywood spotlight (and for good reason since he first had to establish his indie credentials) but now that he’s arrived I know many are curious about what he’ll do next.
The Green helmed Suspiria remake could still be nothing more than a talked up piece of internet gossip (to be fair Portman’s publicist has not confirmed anything yet and Green is only talking about the potential of him directing). Still it’s exciting nevertheless and only time we’ll tell whether for once a genre remake such as this could be executed with love and care.

Forget About Jason, Forget About Freddy: Halloween Cinematic Thrills

With Halloween just around the corner I thought I would use this opportunity to discuss my favorite part of America’s true beloved holiday, scary movies. There is something exhilarating about absorbing a truly frightening film or for that matter passively watching a bad horror movie with friends. While some people seek thrills by climbing mountain faces, jumping out of airplanes, or fleeing from angry bulls (seriously, can anyone truly explain Pamplona, Spain’s Running of the Bulls gala of insanity) the majority of us turn to cinema for our adrenaline fixes. Since the dawn of the celluloid filmmakers have been dishing out films reserved for those with a taste for the macabre. 

Horror movies are some of the most consistent pieces of the film industry. Sure there have been highs and lows in the genre, resurgences have come and gone, but one thing remains true; people will always yearn for those cinematic chills. The demand, however big it may be, is always constant with horror films. The golden age of cinema through the 60s brought on big studio monster movies, sly noir thrillers, and of course, Hitchcockian suspense (a subgenre respectively). The 1970’s, arguably the paramount epoch of cinema, period, saw the expansion of the horror genre and gave filmgoers some of the best nail biters out there. The creation of VHS and movie rental houses triggered a massive wave of low-budget, schlock video nasties from across the globe during the 1980’s and helped spawn the current highly exploitative, gross-out horror phase that horror movies are stuck in now. Then there were the 90s, which began with a slump in the genre followed by a fairly lame return to teen slasher films–the Party of Five horror heyday, as I like to call it. 

Some say the new millennium has been a breath of fresh air for the genre with an overall rise in popularity of no holds barred gore fests (Saw, uh hum, IV opens this weekend I believe along with some ultra violent arctic vampire movie) and a surge of film curiosities coming from East Asia, aka. the “fear the black haired ghost chick with eerie feline larynx” genre. Personally I think horror of today is more focused on shock than on scares. Still over the years despite a saturated market of genre films there was a fair share of gems that managed to break through to stand the test of time. 

Now I could use the rest of this column to list the obvious horror film masterpieces–The ShiningThe ExorcistHalloweenAlienWait Until DarkA Nightmare on Elm St.Texas Chainsaw MassacrePsychoRosemary’s Baby etc etc–but I thought it would be better to discuss the sect of underrated, overlooked, and forgotten gems in the genre that are just waiting to be discovered

Italian Suspensia
Similar to the current, “Asian Extreme” horror subgenre as I believe it’s being referred to, there was a slew of gritty international slasher films coming out of Europe, specifically Italy, during the late 70s and 80s. While there are a number of classics from this wave there is one pinnacle film that stands proud with the best of the best as one frightening cinematic experience. Dario Argento has been called the European Hitchcock for his unique sense of visual style, use of wonderfully creepy soundtrack scoring and a diverse canon of thrillers behind him. If this statement is true then 1977’s 
Suspiria may be his Spellbound crossed with Psycho. This eerie supernatural thriller relies on stunning cinematography, intense sound effects, a brilliant use of color, unusual setting (creepy German gothic dance school in the woods) and sheer gothic atmosphere for its scares, rather than simple gore tactics (although the film is pretty brutal in its own right). While the film may seem dated thanks to horrible overdubbing (a standard norm during its filming) and some rather silly low-budget special effects during its finale, this movie lives up to its corny tagline–“The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film Are The First 92”–as one of the most frightening roller coaster rides you’ll ever encounter. Also check out Argento’s Tenebre and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and Mario Bava’s Black Sunday

Psychological Thrills 
Some of the scariest films out there aren’t necessarily categorized as horror, but rather psychological thrillers or dramas. Surrealist auteur David Lynch is a master of building scenes of sheer suspense, and has long used this tactic in just about every film he envisions. Still his freakiest film to date has to be the curiously overlooked 
Lost Highway. While the film itself is a bit of a WTF thanks to Lynch’s devotion to not spoon feeding his viewers meanings or intentions, it features some of the most intense and spine chilling moments of any film he or others have done, particularly thanks to a creepy performance by Robert Blake as the pale-faced Mystery Man who lacks eyebrows and videotapes people while they’re sleeping. 

Adrian Lynes is often labeled as an erotic thriller filmmaker thanks to films like Fatal Attraction and Unfaithful but his true masterpiece is a little sleeper circa 1990, Jacob’s Ladder. Tim Robbins (in his best performance) plays a Vietnam Vet who is forced to deal with some inner demons, literally, and some haunting discoveries about his past. The film deals with paranoia, the use of mind altering drugs, the collapse of the human psyche and even more serious issues such as government experiments on American GIs in Vietnam. Going more into the plot might spoil the movie, which is best viewed fresh. Other good psychological gems to add to your Netflix, The Wicker Man (original), Roman Polanski’s brilliant Repulsion, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, & Brad Anderson’s Session 9

Monster Mash
Today most people associate horror movies with the knife/axe/power tool wielding slashers that have flooded the market over the years; however, some of the original and best horror films are those dealing with the classic tale of monsters. Fan of the early Japanese monster movies like 
Godzilla or Rodan? If so check out the recent Korean gem, The Host, a film that not only redefines this corny genre but is a pretty suspenseful movie. Always adored the dark horror comedy, An American Werewolf in London? Check out another fun British werewolf film Dog Soldiers, which is a high-octane cat and mouse chase film set in a creepy English forest. Think vampire films are cool? Check out the cool 80s bloodsuckers in the desert road movie, Near Dark, starring a baaddasss cast of 80s actors including a memorable Bill Paxton. 

Recent Greats
Forget the countless 
Saw films, the pointless torture porn of Hostel, the recycled Japanese PG-13 ghost story movie remakes and pointless sequels/prequels to classics. Since 2000 there have been a number of quality frighteners creeping past the mainstream eye. The extremely scary, keep you on the edge of your seat 2005 spelunking nightmare film, The Descent relied on Alienesque claustrophobic suspense, creepy creature effects and fast-paced cinematography to create what is hands down the scariest movie in a long time. Before remaking a lackluster Wes Craven 80s horror cult favorite, The Hills Have Eyes, Frenchman Alexandre Aja made an extremely disturbing and chilling slasher, High Tension, which, despite a critically disparaged finale, is a pretty frightening film experience. Two Spanish speaking up and coming directors took the classic ghost story in brilliant directions with The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo Del Toro) The Others (Alejandro Amenábar). Japanese shock filmmaker Takashi Miike has made a number of cult gross-out films but none compare to his slow burning suspense masterpiece, Audition, which features one of the most F’ed up and terrifying endings imaginable. 

For anyone looking for a fix of chills this Halloween or whenever for that matter, seek out some of these titles. Sure there is a time and a place for the fun, goofy, and campy horror films of past and present, but there is no denying that wonderful feeling you get from a truly unique and frightening piece of cinema.

Film Review: Jacob’s Ladder

Film Classics:
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)–R
Directed by: Adrian Lyne
Starring: Tim Robbins, Danny Aiello

I’ve often said that “Jacob’s Ladder” is by far one of the most frightening psychological thrillers out there. Adrian Lyne is one of those directors who unfortunately seemed to have been typecasted as solely an “erotic thriller” filmmaker, being known mainly for his successes–“Fatal Attraction,” “Unfaithful” and “Nine ½ Weeks.” “Ladder” proves that Lyne is not only a misrepresented master but also extremely underrated.

“Ladder” is a film that treads many different waters. At its surface the film deals with the Vietnam War, the use of hallucinatory drugs during combat and the post-traumatic stress disorders that followed. On the other hand the film examines the human psyche, more specifically, how the mind can play unforgiving tricks on you during harsh times. Finally the film is an allegory about accepting a fate and moving on with your life. To say any more would defeat the film’s purpose and magnificent twist.

“Ladder” tells the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins, in by far one of his best and underappreciated performances), a Vietnam vet who wakes up on a New York subway one night and enters a world on the fringe of reality and dreams. At first his visions warrant a double take–people with weird horns and tails, train cars with eerie ghost like passengers and literal demon like creatures begin to haunt his every move. While Singer cannot explain his the frightening apparitions, he likens the torment of his life to that of living in hell and begins to wonder if his experiences in the jungle is the cause.

As Singer shifts in and out of his supposedly haunted reality he begins to have strange and incomplete flashbacks from the war, specifically one night full of carnage and haziness. Singer seeks out fellow vets as well as his former service shrink but comes up short on answers and is on his own on his quest for answers.

“Ladder” is a film that takes a lot of patience and a keen eye for details. The answers and culmination of the story are presented but not spoon-fed. Some viewers may find this style and the film’s editing to be confusing but on second viewings the film as a whole is quite rewarding.

Robbins is one of those actors who, personally, I can take or leave. He shined in early films like “The Player” and “The Shawshank Redemption” but lately hasn’t blown me away, even despite his unwarranted Oscar for “Mystic River.” In “Ladder” Robbins not only nails the role of Singer but also gives the character a level of shear innocence and frustration with life that makes it a standout performance.

Other supporting roles equally compliment Robbins. The great Danny Aiello (“Do the Right Thing”) shines as Singer’s chiropractor and personal guardian angel type friend. The highly underappreciated actor has that kind of soft-spoken wisdom to him that benefits the film and helps the flow of the often-chaotic nature of the film.

It’s hard to sum up in words why “Jacob’s Ladder” is not only a successful thriller but also a very sophisticated and smart look at a person struggling with fate and his beliefs. As the end credits roll and the soft and eerie piano soundtrack starts up again, all the pieces of the puzzle come together and we are left with a lot to ponder. And while the film may seem a bit dated at times it has survived the tides of time and holds its own to any Shyamalan type thriller out there. Always a sign of a classic film.