Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Sleep Tight [English subtitled trailer]

‘From the director of [REC] and [REC]2’ is a selling point.

Jaume Balagueró is an auteur in progress. His résumé1 shows his English language films to be lacking but his Spanish horror films are excellent. Sleep Tight 2011 is a Spanish film.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Eccl 1:9
Every story is a reworking of a previous one. The art is in the telling. This year Hammer Films released The Resident 2011. It is the tale of a single female tenant who is stalked in her apartment. Sleep Tight tells the story from the stalker’s vantage point.

The Masters of Horror from the 70s have stopped making good movies – Carpenter, Craven, Romero. Horror needs new masters. Sleep Tight will not make Balagueró a star amongst fanboys but it will further his reputation amongst aficionados.
Thrill Fiction would like to thank Twitchfilm.com for use of their exclusive content.

Sleep Tight’s release dates are to be announced.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Case 39
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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Scream 4

In the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy 2010 Wes Craven confesses he didn’t make money off the franchise. As a result he and Bob Shaye – the New Line Cinema owner – fell out. Shaye later made things right but Craven wasn't going to make the same mistake with Scream 1996.

Idealism favours the young. History states older people couldn’t care less. Once upon a time a Robert De Niro film meant a cinematic experience1: The Deer Hunter 1978; Raging Bull 1980; The King of Comedy 1983. Now it means Little Fockers 2010. Earlier in his career Johnny Depp made idiosyncratic fables2: Edward Scissorhands 1990; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape 1993; Benny & Joon 1993. Now he earns a living dressed up as a pirate. Wes Craven used to make horror films3. Now he’s made Scream 4 2011.
The success of Scream cannot be overstated. It alerted Hollywood to the crossover horror audience. The two sequels were box office hits because of the affection for the first one. Dimension Films had created a brand but the laws of the sequel dictated the series end as a trilogy. Nevertheless the brand has remained potent for 11 years.

A new trilogy was announced in 2009. It makes business sense. The first trilogy earned over $400million (in today’s money) at the domestic box office4. In addition there was the overseas box office, DVD income and all other ancillary revenue including merchandising. This is a cow with cash left in it to be milked.
A new trilogy does not make narrative sense. The deconstructionist concept was written to completion at the end of the first film. Things would be different had the series taken a natural sidestep to dissecting thrillers but Scream 2 1997 was a rehash and Scream 3 2000 was a recap. There is not enough new slasher material for another three films.

Avarice will win over art on any given Friday. Wes Craven is 71 years old. He knows this is his last run but he also knows his legacy is unassailable. Kevin Williamson is a glorified television writer5. He will write whatever the market dictates. The three returning cast members have nothing else on their résumés. Theoretically a new trilogy could be repeated every 15 years to entice a new audience of marks.

The public are at their mercy.
A lot has changed since 2000AD. Remakes have proliferated. Reboots are established. Subgenres have waxed and waned: there are the last vestiges of torture porn; J-Horror has come and gone; the current favoured is Point-Of-View film – Insidious 2011 is doing great business6.

The horror has not been confined to cinema. There is a war on terror. There is an economic crisis but Scream 4 ignores the reality of its audience and nonchalantly resumes where its predecessor ended. It exists in a fantasy vacuum. In this age of horror cinema vérité Scream 4 screens like a Doris Day musical.

The movie starts with its trademark curtain raiser. What should have been cinematic flourish is rendered gimmick by the end of the sequence. Yet within that sequence is the best written scene in the film – satire with more vitriol than in Scream.

Perhaps this is the tone Williamson intended for Scream 47. To wit the last scene in the curtain raiser is a reshoot. Stills and commentary of the original material can be viewed at Scream-trilogy8. Be that as it may Williamson has kept his name on the picture. That’s a stamp of approval.

English television soap operas centre round the public house. The reason being is that the cast can intermingle and forward the plot over drinks. One show that tried to buck the trend was Crossroads. It was cancelled in 1988. It is remembered as the soap where the cast talked to each other over the phone.

This is why in 100 years of cinema the telephone is barely seen. It is bad enough to have two talking heads let alone one. Scream 4 has its whole cast on the cell phone. When they’re not talking to the killer they’re talking to each other. It is monotonous. It is anti-cinema.

Suspension of disbelief has always been necessary whilst watching the franchise but Scream 4 requires a belief in fairies. It is a film where the boys are wimps and the girls have 135 IQ points; where the dialogue consists of brand name droppings intended to be satirical barbs. The death scenes are tired; one verges on torture porn. The extended dénouement is a metaphor for the death throes of the franchise. The tagline ‘New Decade New Rules’ could have applied to Scream 3. That film made up its own rules as it went along too.

Kevin Williamson plundered Popcorn 1991 for the first trilogy. It makes dishonest sense he would return to source for more thievery. As well as the metafilm and mimic voice box ideas Williamson has stolen the horror film festival aka horrorthon. Parody becomes pastiche.
New Decade. New Rules. New Cast.
One of the standouts in Scream was the cast and characters. Scream 4 is the closest any of the sequels have come to replicating that camaraderie. The young actors riff off each other in a stylised manner but with convincing ease. Alas the returning characters are left with nothing to do but ball watch.

Therein lies the problem. Neve Campbell is 37, Courtney Cox 46 and David Arquette is 39. They deliver good performances within the parameters of a ridiculous script but they look like hall of famers. Their time has gone. They don’t belong anymore.

Respected online publications have blasted this film and received hate mail as a result9. The franchise has its fanboys but Napoleon is not always right.

Scream 4’s first weekend US grosses are $18.7million10 – compared to Scream 3’s $34.7m11 ($44.5m adjusted for inflation). That is a disaster. There may not be a Scream 5. There definitely won’t be a Scream 6.

Avarice will win over art on any given Friday. Hollywood will always produce sequels, trilogies, franchises, reboots and remakes.

They best remember every film is at the public mercy.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Before Wes Craven Screamed
1 Robert De Niro filmography
4 The Scream franchise Box Office Mojo
5 Kevin Williamson IMDb
6 Insidious Box Office Mojo
7 Kevin Williamson interview Entertainment Weekly
9 Scream 4 The Numbers
10 Scream 3 The Numbers
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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Before Wes Craven SCREAMed: Popcorn (1991)

Kevin Williamson’s Wikipedia1 entry states Scream 1996 was inspired by the Gainesville Ripper2. Thrill Fiction asserts that Williamson stole the concept and format of Scream from Popcorn 1991.

A curriculum vitae can be a fascinating testament. In 1972 Leslie Nielson was a respected dramatic actor starring in the ensemble blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure; in 1980 he starred in the ensemble blockbuster Airplane! William Peter Blatty co-wrote A Shot in the Dark 1964 – the sequel to The Pink Panther 1963; he would later write The Exorcist 1973 screenplay based on his 1971 novel. Mark Herrier starred in Porky’s 1982; he directed Popcorn 1991.

There is consensus that the 80s horror boom began with Friday 13th 1980 and ended with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare 1991. It ended with Popcorn. Where Freddy’s Dead is merely a bad film to end a tired franchise Popcorn is an indictment of the entire genre. It is an exclamation point.

The 80s horror gold rush disintegrated into prospectors selling sand instead of gold. Popcorn accuses both the filmmakers who exploit and an audience that demands more gore. Its satire is attached to a plot: Maggie is being stalked in her dreams. She’s part of a film school crew that stage a horror movie festival. The killer stalks her in the movies.
The plundering of Popcorn by Kevin Williamson has been detailed in the Scream and Scream 2 1997 critiques. There is more:

One of the trademarks of Scream is the telephone call. It is the catalyst that sets up its most famous set-piece – the Drew Barrymore sequence – and is used throughout the franchise. The nuisance phone call precipitates the plot of Popcorn. It doesn’t feature as heavily as it does in Scream but it is significant.

Of more significance is the voice on the phone. Ghostface has an electronically altered voice. In Scream 3 2000 he used electronics to mimic other character’s voices. The Popcorn bad guy uses these ploys – but he did it first. Furthermore he mimics other voices to a greater dramatic effect.

In the Scream films it is emphasized any one of the cast could be the killer – even the high school principal. In Popcorn as the cast dwindles by death in disguise the hidden identity of the killer engenders more importance.

The pilfering is not exclusive to concept, theme and plot. Not many films start without a credit roll. Scream opens with a curtain raiser and then a single title card: the name of the movie. So does Popcorn.
darling of the 80s: Jill Schoelen
Popcorn is not a great movie – it’s a very good one. It has its faults. Like a lot of horror films the story is ludicrous although this is camouflaged by excellent plotting. There is a montage in act 1 – a jaded device used in a slothful manner. It’s the equivalent of a bridge in a computer generated pop song.

The heroes in Popcorn are a film school crew. There is familiarity but no camaraderie. Young people get on with each other. They form a bond quicker than adults yet this is not depicted within this cast. It is depicted in films such as The Breakfast Club 1985, Stand By Me 1986 and Scream.

Popcorn is well acted but the plot takes precedence over its cast and theme. That is until the third act when the bad guy reveals himself and struts down the aisle towards metafilm climax. At this point plot and theme coalesce into art. Some films have their moments. Aliens 1986 had Ripley confronting the queen. Popcorn has the final act of Possessor.

Kevin Williamson plundered Popcorn but never reached the high point of art. Perhaps that wasn’t his intention. He did reach the high point of entertainment. He recognised that Popcorn’s selling point was its satire, pop culture references and genre deconstruction. Where Popcorn kept its theme in the background Williamson pushed them to the fore of Scream.

He also applied more comedy. Popcorn is intermittently funny – there is a running joke of Mark getting clobbered – but Scream is constantly funny to the point of horror-comedy. Production company Dimension Films applied more money. Their $15million3 ($21m today) budget is evident onscreen.

The horror genre has a history of using no name actors and young folk; it has a low budget default. Dimension subverted tradition when it hired the biggest director in horror and a bona fide star in Drew Barrymore. They gathered the best ensemble of unknowns in a horror film: Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard. Furthermore they peppered the cast with recognisable faces: Courtney Cox and Henry Winkler. Dimension was not going to let Scream go the way of Popcorn.

Despite Jill Schoelen as final girl Popcorn failed at the box office4 5. The marketing didn’t help. Even by 1991 standards6 the trailer7 was awful.

Scream is the most successful slasher ever made8. To date the bodies involved – Williamson, Wes Craven and Dimension Films – have not publicly acknowledged their inspiration.  

Scream is not a great movie but it is a great remake of Popcorn

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: The Last Houseon the Left
2 The Gainesville Ripper TruTV
3 Scream The Numbers
4 Popcorn IMDb
6 The Silence of the Lambs trailer
7 Popcorn trailer
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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes [trailer]

La Planète des singes pub. 1963 by Pierre Boulle translated as Planet of the Apes. It is inspired. The 1968 film is more famous than the novel. The 1968 film has the best ending in movie history.

The film created a cottage industry: four sequels and a 2001 remake, a television series, an animated television series and the bric-à-brac of merchandising. It has enough of a cultural impact that another film is always a possibility.

There is a reason stories start at the beginning. Prequels rarely work. In today’s smash-and-grab box office strategy they don’t really have to.
When one character argues with another that the cost of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease might be too much then the quality of the writing has been exposed. Like the 2001 remake this could be a white elephant mammoth.

It doesn’t have to be.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011 opens 5th August in the US and 12th August in the UK.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Trick r Treat

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Scream 3

The trilogy is as old as the ancient Greeks. In their time the convention consisted of three tragedies performed in succession followed by a satyr (tragicomedy)1. The (modified) form has since been adopted in novels (The Lord of the Rings pub.1954-55), poems (The Spanish Trilogy pub. 19132) and film.

Film is the bastard cousin of the arts of storytelling because it alone is created primarily as a source of commerce. The art in film is despite the motion picture industry not because of it. As such sequels quickly appeared in the history of the movies: the first feature length film is the Australian The Story of the Kelly Gang 19063; the first feature length sequel is the American The Fall of a Nation 19164

Hollywood produced repetitive sequels which formed incidental series such as the Tarzan, Dracula and the Wolfman films. It wasn’t until Star Wars (parts 4-6) that the industry packaged the trilogy as a brand.

In the 90s Hollywood discovered the vociferous appetite of the home video sell-thru market. To wit consumers are prepared to buy bad films as long as they are packaged with good ones eg The Godfather trilogy. Thus the trilogy is good for business.

However Hollywood is not in the business of producing trilogies. Hollywood produces sequels that lead to series. If two of these sequels are made the series is marketed as a trilogy. Yet such is the avarice of the industry that this does not stop more sequels being produced in the same series (Alien 1979Alien: Resurrection 1997).
Red White and Blue
A true example of a trilogy is Three Colours directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski. To watch these films is to witness the art of cinema in the knowledge that they cannot be mass marketed to an English language audience. Another example is the Dead trilogy. Each film is connected by theme and separated by time with ill attempt to accommodate the market.

Therefore the ‘trilogy’ is a marketing ploy of an industry with a scorched earth policy. That is to beat a horse to death and then flog it. The horse in this analogy is the narrative. Indiana Jones will do in the next film what he did in the last one.
There was a respectful lapse between Scream 2 1997 and Scream 3 2000. There was enough time to make a sequel. Kevin Williamson was otherwise engaged on a TV project so writing duties fell to Ehren Kruger. 

It all fell apart from there.

Prior to Scream 3 Kruger had proved himself penning Arlington Road 1999 – a credible psychological drama. After Scream 3 he proved himself again by writing The Skeleton Key 2005 – a quiet and effective horror yarn. What these two films have in common is intent and purpose. Their respective stories are linear and focussed.

The Scream films have no plot to boast about. They are constructs to deconstruct. Hence they are a series of vignettes dotted together by thin story. It is within these parameters that Kruger fails. With no plot to speak of the urgency must be in the characters, dialogue and individual scenes. Kruger fails on all three fronts.

If Scream 2 had the new character of Joel the cameraman – played by Duane Martin – then Scream 3 has Jennifer Jolie played by Parker Posey (she used to be a somebody5). Jennifer plays the role of Gail Weathers in Stab 3. Scream 3 is a film within a film – a metafilm. It’s not confusing. It’s irritating much like Posey’s character.
The Scream 3 cast
Kruger’s observations about trilogies are neither insightful nor revealing. They are invented for the purposes of this film. The concept of metafilm is not developed or explored. It is solely used as a sight gag. The audience is invited to laugh at unknown actors dressed up as the original cast – and no more.

Krueger is a proven better writer than Williamson but he’s no good at irreverence. The dialogue is scattershot and hysteria. The attempts at commenting on the industry via the Lance Henriksen character lead to nowhere. None of the kills are memorable.
Four weeks into filming Back to the Future 1986 director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg fired lead actor Eric Stoltz and replaced him with Michael J Fox6. Wes Craven should not have shot the Kruger script.

The wrestler Matt Morgan turned up at Ohio Valley Wrestling. Kenny Bolin, one of the executives, was surprised to see him. Morgan was supposed to be at WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

“What are you doing here?” Bolin said.

“The writers didn’t have anything for me,” Morgan replied.

“So they fired you?” Bolin said. “Fire the fucking writers.”
Kenny Bolin of Bolin Services
Scream is a one film trilogy because the concept is a one trick pony. With the release of Scream 4 2011 at least they can drop ‘trilogy’ and start calling it a series franchise.

Scream 4 opens 15th April. Advance word from the critics is in the middle7 8.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Before Wes Craven Screamed
1 The Oresteia of Aeschylus public domain at InternetArchive
2 The Spanish Trilogy The Washington Post
3 first feature film Associated Content
5 Parker Posey Wikipedia
6 Back to the Future Wikipedia
7 Scream 4 Rotten Tomatoes
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Monday, 11 April 2011

The Woman in Black (teaser trailer)

The Woman in Black starring Danial Radcliffe
In the 1960-70s British Hammer Horror films enjoyed worldwide success so much so they were their own brand à la Universal horror in the 30s. Unfortunately they could not compete with the new wave of American horror that began with Night of the Living Dead 1968. Hammer ceased production in the 1980s.

In 2007 the company was bought by nouveau riche John de Mol – the man who owns Endemol. His reality television curriculum vitae boasts Big Brother and Jerseylicious.

Now de Mol wants to make horror films.

The new (dutch owned) Hammer has released three films to date: Let Me In 2010, The Resident 2011 and Wake Wood 2011: an ambitious remake, a generic thriller/horror and a low key horror fable respectively. They are all flawed films yet it is not a bad start. In order for Hammer to recreate their brand they must do better. The Woman in Black 2011 will be their litmus test.

The novel was published in 1983 and remains in print. It has been adapted for television and radio. A stage play has been running in London since 1987. The film stars Harry Potter alumni Daniel Radcliffe and is directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake 2008). It has no reason to fail creatively.

The box office will be down to the marketing.

The Woman in Black is on general release 28th October in the UK. US date to be announced.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Wicker Man
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Saturday, 9 April 2011

Scream 2

The first feature length sequel was a flop. The Fall of a Nation 1916 followed the notoriously racist The Birth of a Nation 1915. The studio involved (with the former) went bust five years later having made the one film1. The first American horror sequel is Bride of Frankenstein 1935. It was a commercial success. Blogger Ricky Sprague says it’s better than the original. He’s not the only one2.

Business is synonym for profit and sequels are good business. In horror’s golden 30s two of Universal’s monsters – Frankenstein and Dracula – headlined five movies. In the renaissance 80s Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers headlined 17. In this 21st century boom there have been 7 Saw movies.

Sequels are not good for creativity.
These films suck
There are sequels on a creative par with their originals (The Godfather Part 2 1974, Aliens 1986, Terminator 2 1991) but the exception is not the rule. Likewise while there are examples that outperform their predecessors3 the projected gross of a sequel is 75% of the original. Its simple arithmetic: Scream 1996 amassed a worldwide box office of $173million4 ($243m adjusted for inflation). The business demanded a sequel.

The Star Wars trilogies are a perfect example of sequels. There’s a three year interval between each film and there’s a reason for this: screenwriting guru Syd Fields5 suggests a spec script be written over a 12-18 month period. The average Hollywood movie has a 13 week shoot6. Post production including editing can take up to a year for soft deadlines. Thus from first draft to final cut the incubation of a motion picture is about 2½ -3 years. A shorter length is to the detriment of the film. The audience pays for it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 1985 hit theatres 357 days after the original. Despite its betrayal of the mythology created by Wes Craven in his 1984 landmark I have sympathy for both writer and director for attempting to further the story in a new direction. However the mistakes and missteps are glaring. I believe given time to develop the script they would have made a great movie. Nevertheless it is hated by the Elm Street fan base.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 box office receipts equated to 113%7 (adjusted for inflation) to that of the original.

Scream 2 1997 was released 357 days after Scream.
The Drew Barrymore curtain raiser is the most famous sequence in Scream (and subsequently the franchise). In their attempt to duplicate it Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven were establishing a tradition – much like the James Bond openings and to a lesser extent the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

The Barrymore sequence is a carbon copy of the opening scenes of When a Stranger Calls 1979. In Scream 2 the Stab curtain raiser is lifted from the dénouement of Popcorn 1991. In 1996 the Scream audience – myself included – weren’t aware of When a Stranger Calls but neither were the critics8.  In 1997 the Scream 2 audience weren’t – and still aren’t – aware of Popcorn. A pilfered opening can be defended as an in-joke. It can’t be defended twice.

The opening does not work. Where Scream had Drew Barrymore Scream 2 had Jada Pinkett. She is not a star now and she wasn’t a star then. Like Kate Capshaw she is best known as a wife. Her acting was stiff and she had zero chemistry with her co-star. Omar Epps is a proven talent but neither he nor Wes Craven could coax an appropriate performance from Jada. Pinkett is a worthy actress9 but in this role she was miscast. Vulnerable is not her forte.
Black Power
Jada was not the only cast member rendered awkward. Neve Campbell was only 24 when Scream 2 was made yet she looked older than her similarly aged co-stars. Perhaps it was that ill judged hair-do. College freshmen don’t go for the politician’s wife look. As for Jerry O’Connell he beggars belief as Sidney’s boyfriend. The Topgun 1986 ‘parody’ could only be written by a gay man or a Hindi. It’s still cringe inducing 14 years after.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is horror royalty and a Final Girl10 but her casting looks like star padding. The Drew Barrymore scenes signalled anyone could die in Scream. Sarah Michelle’s extended cameo is Barrymore redux. This was the signal the franchise had run out of invention. Gellar and Jada should have switched roles.

The cumulative effect is a cast that do not display the chemistry and familiarity that the originals did. It’s only when the Scream survivors interact that the film comes alive. When Jamie Kennedy’s character dies the emotional investment dies with him.
money in the blood bank: Scream 2 queens (l-r) Heather Graham, Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tori Spelling
The plot for Scream 2 is ghostface stalks Sidney Prescott and will kill everyone including her friends who get in the way of his slashing her. It’s the same plot as the original. The difference is in Scream the convoluted execution is forgiven due to the wit of the script. It’s a movie where the horror/action set pieces are a vehicle to connect the dramatic scenes of genre deconstruction amidst comedy. No one cares who the killer is.

Scream 2 makes a brave attempt under constrained circumstances. The film class scene is amongst the best written in the franchise. The Laurie Metcalf character is a good addition. The subplot of fame seeking is astute if underdeveloped. Therein lies the problem; not enough time to develop the script; not enough time in casting; not enough time for a sequel.

Scream 2 grossed a North American $101million11 ($138m adjusted); 96% of the originals domestic tally.

Sequels are not good for creativity but the business demanded another one.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Scream 3
1 The Fall of a Nation Wikipedia
2 Bride of Frankenstein Rotten Tomatoes
3 Sequels outperform originals Wikipedia
4 Scream box office The Numbers
6 13 week shoot EHow
7 A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 Box Office Mojo
8 Scream 2 Metacritic
9 Jada Pinkett-Smith Wikipedia
11 Scream 2 Box OfficeMojo
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