Despite everything, I can’t bring myself to hate 1996′s Scream. By all rights I should, because Scream completely reinvented horror movies not as vehicles for terror and/or revulsion, but as ironically detached commentaries on themselves. We’re only just now starting to climb out of this hole, with the better part of 20 years spent watching horror films poke fun at the genre instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is scare us. But Scream, despite its assault on the fundamentals of horror cinema, remains a good film. Smiley, from 2012, made 16 years after Scream, is a throwback to the Scream-authored trend and is just about as disappointing as you can imagine.
I probably never even would have heard of Smiley if it hadn’t been for all the movie channels we were getting until recently. While perusing the listings for a channel devoted to such entertainments, I saw the description of the film, about a serial killer who chooses his victims through the internet, and figured what the hell. I recorded it. I watched it. I was not happy.
To start with, the summary of the film was incorrect. It had some elements in common with the actual story, but for the most part it was entirely different. In Smiley it is posited that somewhere in the bowels of the internet there is a murderous being who, like Bloody Mary, can be summoned with a simple ritual. When engaged in a chat with someone, a nasty-minded individual need type, “I did it for the lulz,” three times and the eponymous Smiley will immediately appear and butcher the other party.
Of course, this has maximum effect if you’re using something like Skype or, as the film initially shows us, a Chatroulette knockoff. If someone were to be killed while using Facebook Messenger, they would simply stop typing. Not very dramatic. Add a webcam into the mix and everyone can see the bizarre, smiley-faced murderer killing his victim in full color. High-def, too, if you have the equipment.
Some years back, in a previous iteration of this blog — there have been many, many of those — I did a little experiment. I decided for some strange reason to watch every one of the Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies in the order in which they were released. I did reviews for all of them and I wish I still had those reviews because they represented a lot of work. Sadly they were lost when the database for the old blog went kerflooey. I hope against hope that won’t happen to this blog.
Anyway, I performed this exercise because I wanted to see how the slasher movie developed over the years, starting with the granddaddy of them all (Halloween) and proceeding all the way through to the Friday the 13th reboot from Marcus Nispel. At a certain point all these series were sort of feeding off one another and trying to one-up their levels of carnage, so it was interesting to watch the progression, especially from the perspective of today’s horror, which is largely bloodless and concerned primarily with poking fun at the genre.
I bring all of this up because it’s pretty clear Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, the co-writers of The Cabin in the Woods, have seen all those movies and probably more. And they may even like them — it’s hard to watch all that without some affection, at the very least — but they also retain the current generation’s propensity for snark. This combination of reverence and irreverence makes for an uneasy creation, and one I can’t wholeheartedly say I liked, or even found effective in terms of the genre.
It makes me sad that there are two movies called The Fog. One is the real deal, directed and co-written by horror master John Carpenter and released in 1980. The other is a faint imitation from 2005 made by people whose names I don’t remember, starring a bunch of young actors I barely recognize and containing nothing of the original’s character or thrills. In case you didn’t notice the image on the left there, we’re talking about the former today.
I did not see The Fog (1980) when it was released. Oh, I wanted to see it, because the television spots made it look very creepy and scary (which it is), but my parents went through these occasional fits of propriety, and though they had taken me to many inappropriate movies in the past — and would again, I should add — they drew the line at this one. Harrumph.
Since I missed out on The Fog in the theater, I had to wait until its cable television debut, at which point I could watch it over and over and over again to my heart’s content. And I did watch it over and over and over again because I thought it was totally fascinating. I would be lying if I said I was still enraptured by The Fog today, but I do still like it and I do enjoy taking it out to watch periodically. Not too often, because then the atmosphere would be depleted, but every couple of years or so.
This year for my birthday, my wife bought the new Blu-Ray restoration of The Fog released by Shout! Factory. It has a wonderful painted cover (see the image again) and is jam-packed with goodies sure to delight fans of The Fog everywhere. I highly recommend picking this sucker up if for no other reason that The Fog has never looked so good. It’s a pristine HD transfer and it’s probably a cleaner, sharper image than even theatergoers got. Seriously, buy it now.
You may recall that I recently reviewed a book by Communion author Whitley Strieber called The Grays. In that review I did a short recap of Strieber’s greatest hit and noted that The Grays was a new approach to the material with which he’d become most associated. To whit: Strieber claimed that the things he wrote about in that book were, in fact, true but that he was not able to substantiate them adequately enough to include them in a nonfiction book. Consider this for a moment and decide what you think. Is it possible? Even likely? Probably not, but it is an interesting way of approaching subject matter that’s gone fairly stale over the decades.
Strieber includes no forward or afterword in this book, Hybrids, that makes any similar claim, but I can only assume given its contents that we are meant to take seriously at least some of what’s included. I know, as it happens, that Strieber has expressed a great deal of trepidation about human-animal hybridization going on at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, off the coast of Connecticut. You may recognize the name Plum Island from The Silence of the Lambs, though Thomas Harris never worried about the stuff we’re concerned with here.
Hybrids is about human beings using alien technology to create programmable human-animal hybrids that are faster, smarter and tougher than normal humans. The purpose is ostensibly to create a better soldier, but things go too far very quickly and what seems more likely is that the creator of the hybrids was fixated more on making the perfect being. A next stage in evolution, if you will, only skipping the whole “natural selection” part of the equation.
Twenty-three years passed between the releases of Psycho (1960) and Psycho II. That’s a really, really, really long time in movie years and I’m still a little amazed that Hollywood actually did such a thing. I’m glad they did, though, because Psycho II is an excellent sequel, even though it’s not as good as the original film.
Only three years would go by before Norman Bates and his infamous motel graced movie theaters again. Psycho III would be the last time there’d be a Psycho sequel on the big screen, which is probably too bad, because Psycho III is every bit as worthy as Psycho II.
From what I understand, Anthony Perkins could only be lured back to the role of Norman this time if he was offered the opportunity to direct. I’ve already said twice that the very best thing about the preceding films is Perkins’ nuanced acting work, and it turns out that Perkins was also a director of some talent. I take nothing away from Richard Franklin, who directed Psycho II, because he did a great job, but Psycho III is first-rate visually and features a couple of transitions that are nothing short of brilliant. Psycho III is a far, far prettier film that anyone had any right to expect.
I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen Psycho II during the 30 years you’ve had the opportunity to, but unfortunately I have to spill some of the beans in order to talk about what happens in Psycho III. To whit: Norman is absolutely off his rocker again, and Mother is back in full force as a consequence of a late-film interlude in Psycho II that certainly took me by surprise when I saw it.