Carnival of souls: talk about…horror movies, shoobeedoobeedoowop

Keith Uhlich calls our attention to several interesting pieces on horror films at Reverse Shot, part of their “A Few Great Pumpkins” horrorblogging series this year.

The funny thing about Reverse Shot is that they published maybe the most spectacularly wrong-headed horror movie review I’ve read all year, Andrew Tracy’s angrily dismissive take on 28 Weeks Later. (I gave that review the business here and reviewed the film myself here.) So you might be forgiven for ignoring a horror blogathon that kicks off by reiterating his sentiments and decrying 28 Weeks Later‘s “useless ‘verité.'” But lo, the intro quickly rights itself by lambasting the “tired excess” of Robert Rodriguez’s “waste-of-space” Planet Terror half of Grindhouse. (Agreed.) Best of all, it refers to Hostel: Part II as “loathsome, self-congratulatory” and “the granddaddy of all badness,” all of which it is.

The critical schizophrenia continues at the site’s review for Hostel: Part II itself, by Michael Koresky. This has to be one of the juiciest bits of horror criticsm I’ve read in some time, because it’s split about evenly between insights with which I agree so emphatically I’m tempted to have them tattooed on my person and real head-slapping howlers. Most of the latter arise from Koresky’s conflation and dismissal of the two Hostel films, which to me are as different as night and day–so different that each day I grow more convinced that the first one was a fluke. Once again he repeats the fatuous notion that Hostel merely presents torture for the gratification of the audience in the most businesslike and unartful way possible, and I’m just baffled that you could watch a movie with (just a few examples) that factory shot or the American businessman’s monologue or the heart-stopping cat-and-mouse game at the end or that meaning-laden conversation about staying in the closet and think that there’s nothing going on in that movie.

But for every head-scratcher, there’s a passage like this:

The need to align epochs of genres, especially horror, with sociopolitical realities has always made for neatly encapsulated criticism and terrific sound bites, but this sort of assessment works better in retrospect. Those who make up this contingent of new filmmakers are from such disparate backgrounds and sensibilities, nationally and otherwise, that to group them together as some kind of coalition comes across as desperate at best, disingenuous at worst. The truth is that the need to place instantaneous social readings on this new wave of horror willfully ignores the pathetic opportunism behind some of the films, as well as the savvy genre reclamation of others. Those influential Seventies horror films, from the dingy cult basement specials of Wes Craven to the multiplex delights of John Carpenter, were for the most part recouped decades later as trenchant post-Vietnam meditations on social disillusionment as a way of putting a neat bow atop a tumultuous past.

Heh, indeed! And the thing ends with an encomium to The Blair Witch Project, which of course is the way to my heart.

And oh, while we’re on the subject of Hostel, Jason Adams reports that the director’s cut of Hostel–and how annoying is it that the unrated cut I already own isn’t the director’s cut? If Roth cares about the fans as much as he says he does, he wouldn’t participate in this kind of transparent, almost clichéd DVD-rebuying huxterism, but oh well–makes a change to the original ending that’s supposedly a vast improvement. I wasn’t wild about that ending, though not for Jason’s reasons–I didn’t read it as homophobic catharsis, but simply as a not-particulary-believable move for the characters involved. Maybe that’s changed.

Back to Reverse Shot, in a move sure to make Jason happy, their aforementioned “Great Pumpkins” series contains a review of Paperhouse (by Robbie Freeling), a movie that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed outside of horror blogs.

Better still, Freeling also looks at Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the explicit goal of giving it the credit it’s due as an unqualified classic of the genre. I think he’s right. I don’t know any horror fan (or even casual, Halloween-time horror-movie watcher) who hasn’t seen that movie and loved it, and gotten the bejesus scared out of them at least twice (you can probably guess when if you’ve seen it), and yet even I rarely give it the time of day. I’m thinking the reason it’s not talked about in the same way and with the same frequency as, say, John Carpenter’s comparable ’50s-scifi-parable-as-body-horror-and-paranoia remake The Thing is because it wasn’t made by a genre stalwart like Carpenter, but by the guy who did The Right Stuff.

Follow those links and read is my advice.