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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Movie Review: SLITHER


"Don't let them in your mouth!"
-- Bill Pardy

Slither is a 2006 horror-comedy written and directed by James Gunn that serves as a well-made, contemporary B-movie. When a meteorite containing an alien parasite crash lands in the woods outside Wheelsy, South Carolina, it may have gone completely unnoticed had it not been for the drunken shenanigans of Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) and Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James). Grant stumbles upon the creeping crawling creature which shoots a dart into his stomach that maneuvers its way into his brain. Over the next few days, Grant develops a number of rashes, and his personality begins to change, much to the concern of his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks). As more time passes, Grant's condition worsens, and it's apparent that something truly alien has started to take control of his body. He goes on a rampage, killing a number of pets and livestock around the community, and he attacks and kidnaps Brenda. In an effort to catch Grant, Starla and the local police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) lead a group of deputies and townspeople in an effort to find him. Little do they know that Grant has laid a trap for them that will unleash an entirely new terror on the town of Wheelsy, and possibly, the entire world.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film back when it was set to be released, and I thought it was an interesting idea for a revamped B-movie. At the time, I wasn't necessarily gung-ho about seeing it, but as time went by and it managed to scare up some relatively positive reviews, I got it in my mind to give it a view. It never really dropped off my radar, but I wasn't as into the horror genre back then as I am now, so I just never took the time to give it a chance. But now, with it much more accessible to me than it has been in the past, I figured now was the best time to take this horror-comedy in.

Like many B-movies, Slither takes a look at what might happen if there were some sort of alien attack on humankind. This time, we're delving into the backwoods of South Carolina, taking a look at how one small town responded to a vicious parasitic attack on its populace. Needless to say, the film ends like so many others have before: with a very large body count and enough gleeful gore to satisfy the gore-hounds. The screenplay offers a good send-up of your classic horror B-movies, and once you can settle into that frame of mind, you can let the mindless entertainment ensue.

What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't expect too much in terms of storyline. It's a humdrum tale of people reacting to a given situation, and that's exactly how it should be. Because of this, however, three other facets need to step up in order to make this a successful film. First, we have to have believable characters with whom we can mildly relate. Banks and Fillion fill those shoes well enough, and although I wouldn't go as far as to say I cared for their characters, I did find myself rooting for them to make it through. Second, the dialogue needs to be catchy and fresh. Slither also succeeds here. The dialogue felt realistic, and it did enough to keep me smiling from start to finish.

Finally, a successful horror-comedy has to deliver the scares as well as the laughs. While it's not as side-splittingly funny as, say, Shaun of the Dead, there's still plenty to laugh about here and there, and most of it comes from dialogue. Kudos to the screenwriter, as well as the actors, for having the comedic timing and sensibilities to pull this one off. In terms of scares, there aren't really any moments of suspense or times where you'll jump out of your seat. In true B-movie fashion, Slither instead goes for the jugular, almost literally. It attempts to shock you by its level of gore, and I do have to say that the filmmakers created a rather disgusting creature for all of us to "enjoy."

Because Slither manages to succeed on its three most important facets, it has to be considered a successful film. Each of these facets help make it an entertaining and mindless romp, and it should never be taken as more than such. Just know going in that you're going to be in for some slightly sickening images here and there, so those of you with an easily upset stomach might want to beware. Aside from that, throw Slither into your "movies to watch" list because it's a hell of a good time.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
Status: Should See

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Movie Review: PSYCHO


"She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"
-- Norman Bates

Psycho is a 1960 horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that many consider to be one of the director's greatest achievements. The story begins in Phoenix, Arizona, where a young secretary named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles forty-thousand dollars from her employer then skips town in the hopes of running away with her long-distance boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), who lives in the small town of Fairvale, California. As Marion makes her way north, she stumbles upon the Bates Motel, a small establishment off the main highway, and decides to stay the night before pushing on to her destination. She meets the young Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the caretaker of the motel, and after exchanging some pleasantries, Marion elects to turn in for the night. Before bed, however, she opts to take a shower...

I think you'd be a bit hard-pressed to find many a film fan who doesn't know the next sequence of events, as Psycho's shower scene has reached a certain stature of fame, or infamy, over the years. From that scene, the rest of the film serves more as a mystery than as a horror film, but none of that really takes away from the fact that Psycho manages to be one of the greatest films ever made. 

For me, Psycho has been a recognizable film for as long as I can remember. To be honest, my first interaction with it was a rather negative one. When I was about four years old, my family decided to take a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. The park had a "special effects stage" attraction, where one of the rooms focused on the cinematography of Hitchcock's films. At such a young age, I was introduced to the shower scene, and I was absolutely horrified. I instantly became terrified of bathrooms and showers, and it took me quite a while to get past that fear. In addition, it took me another sixteen years before I could sit down and watch Psycho in its entirety, but boy am I glad that I did. 

The history of the film itself is a rather incredible one itself. The making of the film is chronicled well in David Thomson's book The Moment of Psycho, and Thomson offers some interesting insight on the film as well, if you have a chance to read it. One of my favorite little tidbits about the film's release is the fact that Hitchcock essentially forbade anyone from entering theaters after the film had begun to play (a tactic that is alluded to in the trailer at the end of this review). His reasoning? Hitchcock thought that a viewer needed to see Psycho from the very start lest they miss an important piece of information. It was a truly groundbreaking idea for the time, and audiences ate it up. 

Over the years, Psycho has become considered one of the most groundbreaking and important films to appear in cinematic history. Arguably Hitchcock's finest film, it does manage to live up to all the hype. The screenplay itself is a wonderfully-written mystery that almost plays as two separate stories. In the first half, we have a tale of love, crime and extortion, but as soon as the shower scene occurs and we as the audience lose our main focal point in Janet Leigh, we're left a little bit adrift. That's when storyline two kicks in, and we're thrown into the midst of a murder mystery in which we think we know the answer. The kicker? Well, I'll leave that to the film and to Hitchcock. What's truly great about the screenplay, however, is that in the midst of all this horror, confusion and mystery, we still get an ample supply of comedy. If you pay close attention, there's a number of bits of dialogue that are meant to be played out for comedic effect, and they're so perfectly-placed that they might even manage to draw a bit of out-loud laughter. Essentially, this screenplay has it all: horror, mystery, comedy, drama and romance. It brings it all together in such an effective manner that there just might be something for everyone.

While the storyline tends to ebb and flow throughout the film, one thing that does remain consistent is the high level of acting performances we receive. Leigh starts out as the apparent lead, and she does an incredible job with the role. At times, she manages to seem both vulnerable and invincible at once, and it's this duality that makes her both appealing and fascinating until her untimely and sudden demise. From there, the disillusioned audience has no choice but to pick up on the film's seeming sub-lead: Perkins's Norman Bates. And let me tell you, Perkins steals the show. The more I watch the film, the more I become mesmerized by just how strong a performance Perkins manages to bring forth. It's a subtle but profound type of brilliance, and I think it's often under-appreciated. Perkins slips through so many emotions even in the course of only one scene that it might be difficult for the casual viewer to keep up with it all, but I would argue that he brought forth one of the greatest performances in cinematic history. 

The rest of the cast fills out rather well mostly because each person plays their part to a tee. Vera Miles comes in for a supporting role as Marion's distraught sister. She teams up with Gavin's Loomis hoping to find answers. Gavin is probably the weakest link in the film (a thought that Hitchcock shared), but even he isn't all that terrible. It's just that, in comparison to the talent around him, there just wasn't any way for him to keep up. Of all the supporting characters, however, I have to tip my hat most to Martin Balsam, who plays the private detective Milton Arbogast. He's a wonderfully-consistent addition to the cast, and he and Perkins combine for one of the film's best scenes. It's just a well-rounded cast all around, and I think the acting in the film has taken a bit of a back seat to the screenplay and the direction itself. Someone needs to herald it, so why shouldn't I?

One of the most effective components of Psycho, however, is its cinematic score. Composed by Bernard Herrmann, I can't quite say it's the most instantly recognizable pieces of music, but it definitely has to be high on the list. Though not quite as iconic as, say, John Williams's score for Jaws, I think Herrmann still managed to create something truly brilliant with his score. The bit from the shower sequence might be the most recognizable from the film, but the rest of the score is so splendidly-crafted that it's hard no to enjoy it from start to finish.

At the end of the day, Psycho proves to rank near, if not at, the top of the list of horror films, and it also manages to be ranked very highly on the list of greatest films of all time. I myself would have to place it within the top five greatest films I've ever seen, and that's saying quite a bit considering the amount of films I've seen. If you haven't had a chance to take in this iconic film, then maybe this Halloween season should be the time to do so. It's not as terrifying as it may have used to be, but it's still so profound that it's easy to understand why it's reached such an idolized place in cinematic history. Congratulations, Mr. Hitchcock. You created a masterpiece.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A+
Status: Must-See