I had the pleasure of seeing this for the first time at IFC a few months ago. Like many movies, especially movies that involve attractive women stuck in a cave being chased by mutant creatures (which is the story of the descent), I judged this movie without giving it a chance. I gotta learn to stop doing that. Over the last few years, quite a few movies that I've pre-judged have made me put my foot in my mouth. These include; gone baby gone, the assination of jesse james, hot tub time machine (fuck you, it was funny) and me and orson welles. Anyway back to the Descent...In the film, 6 women go exploring in a cave, but one of the girls leads them to where they aren't supposed to go, and they end up getting stuck. What's worse is that they are way out of the boundaries of the campground, so no one will be able to find them. What's EVEN worse is that these 6 women aren't alone. As it turns out, there's a gang of vampire/nosferatu/bat looking people that inhabit the cave they're in and don't take kindly to humans. The 6 women soon discover bones, artifacts and other clues that lead them to believe that not only have these mutant creatures been down in these caves for a very long time, but no human has ever made it out. I'd be lying to you if I said a few horror movies clichés didn't take place, but even the classic horror films have plenty of clichés, so I'm not to hung up on that. This isn't a movie to really nitpick at. There's plenty of startles and scenes that'll make you jump. I have yet to see the sequel to the Descent, but from what I hear it's not that great.
To make up for still not writing about John Carpenter as promised, I figured I'd put one of his films on the list. I mean, John Carpenter and Halloween pretty much go hand-in-hand. His recent short feature, Cigarette Burns, is another late discovery of mine (along with the entire Masters of Horror series that the film belongs to). So far, I've seen most of the episodes in the cancelled Showtime series. The episodes in the two season range from awful (we all scream for ice cream and homecoming) to great (the fair haired child and the damned thing). Cigarette Burns happens to be one of my favorite episodes. Ironically, John Carpenter directed another episode in the series (Pro Life) which was really bad. It stars Ron Perlman as a gun-toting Evangelist who storms in to an abortion clinic to stop his teen daughter from terminating what eventually turns out to be a demon baby. Its heavy handed symbolism mixed with a bad rehashing of Rosemary's Baby. Anyway, in Cigarette Burns, Norman Reedus (one half of the Boondock Saints) plays a man who makes a living collecting and selling rare films. His latest conquest is a movie (La Fin Absolue du Monde), that's so disturbing, that it turns people who come near it either; suicidal or psychotic (or both). The closer Reedus's character gets to finding the film, the more dangerous things become. I look at these masters of horror films as r-rated episodes of nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of The Dark. The acting is over the top at times (sometimes it's bad), the quality of some (mainly the special effects) leave a lot to be desired. What's great about Cigarette Burns is that you don't have to love the horror genre to enjoy the movie. The angle about tracking down rare films should attract any cinephile. Another great thing about this episode is that not only is the dvd sold separately from the entire series, but you can watch it right here...
I thought I'd throw in a short film to change things up a bit. Chris Cunningham is known for his music videos (specifically his work for Bjork and Aphex Twin). In fact, his video for Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy is considered one of the best music videos ever made. Cunningham is one of the few popular MTV music video directors that hasn't graduated to feature length films like his peers; Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek and Anton Corbjin. He briefly worked in film years ago. When Stanley Kubrick was in the early development stages of A.I., he had Cunningham develop models for the robots in the film. Things slowly fizzled out, and Kubrick obviously never completed his version of A.I. and went on to make Eyes Wide Shut. Cunningham worked on Alien 3 (directed by another former music video director; David Fincher) as well as Judge Dread. Given the few films he's worked on combined with the imagery from his music videos, i think he'd make a great sci-fi or horror director (god nows we need some original thinkers in the realm of horror these days). For some time now, Cunningham has stuck strictly to music videos (with a few commercials here and there). If you've read the review for Cigarette Burns (above), you'd see that I mentioned one of the features from the masters of horror series; The Fair Haired Child. Rubber Johnny and Fair Haired Child pretty much share the basic plot. A freakish, big-headed, alien-looking child is kept locked away in a room by his parents. Cunningham's Rubber Johnny came out before Fair Haired child, so I can't help but think one influenced the other. Cunningham's short is set to music (Aphex Twin's Afx237 V7) and is shot from the perspective of a video camera in the dark. It definitely has that documentary/blair witch feel (although much more disturbing), mixed the eraserhead baby. In fact I imagine this is what the eraserhead baby would look like if it had arms and legs.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
This is one of the best remakes EVER (in my opinion). This is also a nice a little artifact in that its one of the few memorable movies that star Leonard Nimoy outside of the star trek series (at least from the movies I can recall). With a few exceptions, like the location and the obvious advancements in special effects since the 1950's version, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains true to the first one (there's even a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, who starred in the original). After an Alien race crash lands on planet earth (san francisco to be exact), they leave behind a lethal poison that's spreads in to the flowers and plants. Anyone who comes in contact with these plants has their body taken over by an alien (or 'replica'). These replicas look exactly like the humans they've replaced, with the exception that they're emotionless. Slowly, these replicas take over in an effort to eliminate humans, and create a new society free of war, crime, hatred and all the evil things these aliens believe are brought on by human emotion. A group of scientists (Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Brooke Adams), uncover what's going on and try to stop it, but their efforts becomes more and more difficult due to the fact that everyone around them (including the police) have been turned in to aliens (lead by Leonard Nimoy) and are trying to stop them. The standout performance in Invasion of the Body Snatcher is Veronica Cartwright who plays damn near the same exact role that she played in Alien. Most people who've seen this would agree that the best part of the movie is the ending. For those of you interested, this movie is available on youtube (broken up in 11 parts).
After a couple discover that they can't have children, they go in to a deep depression. In an effort to take their minds off of the bad news, they go on a vacation to their cabin in the woods. While they're out in the woods, the husband see's that nothing is working and his wife is still depressed so he tries to cheer her up by carving a tree stump in to the shape of a baby as a joke. The problem is, the wife is so delusional, she sees the tree stump as an actual baby (whenever the movies shows the mothers perspective we see the tree stump as an actual baby). The husband goes along with it, and they treat this treat stump like an actual living baby. They feed it, put diapers on it, even push it around in a carriage (although when out in public they keep it wrapped up in blankets so no one can see). Things go wrong when the tree stump/baby comes to life and starts to murder some of the local residents. The movie leaves this aspect of the film up to interpretation (as far as I'm concerned). Did the tree actually come to life and kill people, or has the couple gone crazy due to the fact that they can't have children and turned in to serial killers. Half of the movie is told from the perspective of the little girl who lives next door to the couple, who suspects that something's going on (but due to the fact that she's a child, no one listens to her). Even though this little girl is essentially the "hero" of the film, even she has a dark side, and at one point in the film uses the tree monster to kill an old pervert that lives in her apartment building. This is a unique movie, that's very underrated, and has yet to be discovered by many Americans, I imagine almost anyone can enjoy this.
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME
David Lynch's prequel to the popular TV show, might not be a horror film in the traditional sense, but there's plenty of scary scenes that'll freak you out. David Lynch has never directed a straight up horror film, but he's no stranger to directing scenes that creep someone out. Eraserhead (which is commonly categorized as a horror film although I disagree), lost highway (robert blakes character), mulholland drive (the man behind the dumpster) and Inland Empire are all full of scenes and characters that tread close to horror. I didn't like Fire Walk With Me at first. I never thought it connected with the show like it should have. The TV show was more quirky and humours (even though it did have its share of serious and dark scenes). The movie (fire walk with me) is MUCH more serious and more dark. This movie tells the story of Laura Palmer and all of the events that lead up to the television show. We learn that not only did Laura Palmer has have a dark side, but the entire town of Twin Peaks isn't the perfect town that it pretends to be (although if you're familiar with the show, this shouldn't be new to you). This is actually another in flaw in the film in that a lot of the discoveries in Fire Walk With Me are nothing new. Even with its flaws, Fire Walk With Me introduces us to new characters (just as quirky and funny as the characters in the TV show). And no matter how much darker the movie is from the TV show, at its core it still maintains the same spirit as the TV show. Most importantly, Sheryl Lee gives one of the best (and underrated) performance of the 90's (in my opinion). In fact, you can kinda see bits and pieces of performances come through in Naomi Watt's performance in Mulholland Drive. I'm surprised Sheryl Lee never became a bigger actress. At the end of the day, this is a nice change of pace for people looking for something other than the typical horror movies we're often drawn to during this time of the year.