Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dracula 3-D (2012) dir. Dario Argento

Logline: You've heard of Dracula, right? Well this is vaguely like that, but with more computer generated bloodshed, *spooky* animal transformations, Asia Argento snarling, and Rutger Hauer sighing though the last fifteen minutes. If you weren't already sold on this airtight premise, it's also presented in 3-D. You're welcome, audience.

For Argento completists, Dracula 3-D offers a new light in which to see and divide up the director's oeuvre. Alongside his noted gialli and supernatural horror films now rests a third category of film that summarizes his total output: the literary adaptation. Consisting of his hysterically pitched Phantom of the Opera (1998), "The Black Cat" segment from Two Evil Eyes (1990)-- previously the odd ducks in his filmography-- and now Dracula 3-D, these demented book-to-screen adaptations are as beguiling as the animal-to-vampire transformations that Thomas Kretschmann's whispering Dracula goes through in the latter film. Sometimes a vampire is a vampire one minute and a human-sized praying mantis the next; similarly, sometimes an adaptation looks like an adaptation before metamorphosing into a mess of ideas and images that more closely resembles a human-sized praying mantis than the book it was derived from. Argento's literary adaptations have little use or reverence for their source material, as evidenced by Phantom of the Opera's re-imagining of the deformed Phantom as a flawless English hunk and Dracula 3-D's omission of most of the novel's characters and transportation of the key setting from London to exclusively Romania (and hence losing all of the old-world-meets-new-world relevance of the novel). Loose adaptations aren't inherently wicked, but one as aimless and labored as Dracula 3-D certainly raises questions about the wisdom of departing too far from the generating material. Argento's film employs recognizable elements of Stoker's novel, Browning's adaptation, and Coppola's adaptation, but solely to further its bizarre Z-grade direct-to-video exploitation fodder. There is nothing of thematic interest or novelty pumping out from Dracula 3-D's punctured veins. It's schlock by any definition.

Some critics have theorized that the film is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but the ludicrous content of Dracula 3-D is no more frequent or insincere than anything we saw in Trauma (1993), Phantom of the Opera, The Card Player (2004), or Mother of Tears (2007). The notion that Argento has been playing a decades-long joke on his audience-- his films losing money all the while-- appears untenable, so our only recourse is to assume that this was a film that Argento and his crew earnestly believed would be frightening, provocative, exciting, and visually resplendent to a certain audience of filmgoers, perhaps an audience that they hold a certain amount of contempt for. There are no intentional stabs at cult goofiness here; there are only moments that display the numerous artistic limitations and miscalculations of those involved. It is as if they are without care making a film for an audience that they assume also does not care, that will consume whatever it is tossed as long as it carries the recognizable flavor of gratuitous bloodshed and exposed breasts. Argento's filmmaking is no longer merely lazy, but contemptible.

Why does Dracula 3-D exist? It's an honest question that pops into one's head after sitting through its near two hours of plodding, unimaginative bloodsucking: what creative or commercial compulsion helped to generate this film? It's impossible to find any such point of genesis within the film itself. Creatively, Argento finds little of interest to add to the Dracula mythos, taking what bits and pieces of Bram Stoker's novel and previous film adaptations he so desires and tossing them together at random in order to build towards a climax that features all the vampire vanquishing artistry of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), the movie. Commercially, it's laughable that any producer or financier with a hefty checkbook would have seen domestic or international box office potential in a bloated "classical horror film" laden with Myst-level computer generated imagery from a fallen Italian director, even if it were to bear the word "3-D" in its title. Consequently, Dracula 3-D is an abject creative and commercial failure, with almost no chance of recouping its 7.5 million dollar budget and not a ghost of a chance of recouping its director's reputation. Argento is lost to us in the perpetual mists of the Borgo Pass.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Giallo (2009) dir. Dario Argento

Logline: A viscous, sickly hued madman (Adrien Brody as "Byron Deidra") is prowling the streets of Turin in his taxi cab, abducting beautiful women so that he can torture, mutilate, and murder them. He's pursued by the tireless and troubled Inspector Enzo Avolfi (also Adrien Brody), whose unconventional methods include teaming up with Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), the sister of the killer's latest abductee, in order to stop the killer before he kills again.

The man must find joy in giving his films misleading titles. Like Tenebrae (1982) before it, the title of Giallo gives those viewers familiar with Argento's earlier work a false impression. Considering he's the man who (despite the existence of examples of the subgenre that predate his own) solidified the template for the Italian giallo film with 1970's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, you'd imagine that a later film bearing solely the title Giallo would be exactly that: an old-fashioned black-gloved, J&B swilling giallo, in the mode that Argento himself established and has returned to, continually, up through the early 2000s. But it's not. Ironically, Argento uses a film titled Giallo to branch away from the Italian subgenre and into markedly American territory, specifically torture porn and the serial killer police procedural. Though Argento apparently had a hand in the story, the film's screenplay is credited to two Americans, Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, whose combined credits boast of little more than a few low budget TV creature features and a straight-to-DVD Wesley Snipes action film. Their American sensibilities combined with Argento's seeming disinterest in the material produces a film so far removed from the modish style and psychosexual mystery of its namesake that we would almost find it funny if we hadn't already been tricked into watching it.

Giallo features no mystery, no suspense, and no revelations. Its story is a flat, one-note procedural that ends on a bizarre unresolved note. Seemingly, its sole narrative concern is to be as grimy and unpleasant as most modern American horror films, at which it succeeds miserably. The cheeky sleaze of a typical '70s giallo is transformed into Giallo's lengthy scenes of living victim mutilation and other poignant moments, like the one in which the killer wheezingly jerks off to digital photographs of his victim's corpses on his computer while sucking an infant's pacifier. There's nothing fun or compelling underneath the layer of dirt caked onto Giallo, making it all the more beguiling as to why big, respected names like Brody and Seigner would agree to participate. In its pitiful grasping at a theme of duality, the film allows Brody the chance to flex his acting muscle by portraying both the hero and the villain (aided by prostheses and yellow makeup in the latter instance), but neither character is given much depth to express beyond simplified tortured childhoods, so, again, where's the appeal? (The killer's motivation by-way-of tortured childhood is one of the genre's most mind-numbingly juvenile: a jaundiced orphan, the killer Giallo was placed into a church's orphanage as a young boy where the other orphans made fun of him for his yellow skin, inspiring him to take revenge by kidnapping and mutilating beautiful women later on in life because, hey, why not.)

In a way, Giallo might be the perfect encapsulation of the goals and intent of Argento's late career. Here we find a film that crassly exploits the goodwill surrounding the director's earlier achievements while simultaneously debasing those achievements through the injection of stale and contrived modern genre elements straight into their still-beating hearts, seemingly for no creative reasons but only to increase their commercial cache. There's not an entry in Argento's last two decades of filmmaking that couldn't be accused of such calloused, uninspired actions, and the resulting feeling produced-- in both filmmaker and audience-- is one of apathy over the films. As disagreeable as its content is, it's difficult to work up much ire over a film like Giallo. Why waste our breath? Argento didn't. A lawsuit lodged by Brody against the film's money-grubbing producers kept the film barred from wide DVD release for about a year after it premiered, but would we have missed it if it still remained in limbo today? Does a film like Giallo slip from our memories as quickly as it enters, or does it debase and devalue the former art from which it's constructed? At one juncture in the film, Seigner's Linda asks Brody's Inspector Avolfi an unanswerable question about the killer's motive that could easily be asked of that killer's creator: "Why would he want to destroy beautiful things?"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Mother of Tears (2007) dir. Dario Argento

Logline: When art restoration specialist Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) cracks open an ancient box containing the magic cloak of the mythical witch Mater Lachrymarum, the world starts going to hell. Literally. Murderous mall goths, furry disemboweling monsters, and a pesky screeching monkey are only some of the horrors Sarah will have to face as she works with the sparkly ghost of her dead mom to send the Mother of Tears back to the evil dimension from which she sprang.

It's not as if there was any way that this could have turned out well. Filming and releasing the concluding chapter of a trilogy over 25 years after the previous installment hit screens would be an artistic gamble for a director whose career hadn't devolved into utter tripe, and so this effort from Dario Argento-- whose career by 2007 had long been demonstrating some arguably tripe-like qualities-- was doomed from the start. So why did he wait this long to make the The Mother of Tears? Glancing at its tortured pre-production history, we see that the film could have been made as early as 1984, when Argento and his former wife and collaborator Daria Nicolodi had finished a draft of the screenplay. But for whatever reason it wasn't, and it took a couple more decades of drafts and false starts before it materialized. Perhaps it took Argento and his collaborators that long to crack the film's story, but that argument implodes on itself when one watches The Mother of Tears and observes that it boasts the same basic structure as the previous installment, Inferno (1980), but with a more pronounced apocalyptic emphasis. A more likely reason is that it took those decades elapsing (and the critical regard of Argento's back catalogue rising) before any studios would dare pledge him the funds for another supernatural romp. Despite its recent appreciation, Inferno was a critical and box-office failure upon release (going straight-to-VHS in the United States, no less) and may have soured Argento's producers and financiers (and perhaps to some extent himself) on pursuing the surreal fantasy horror mythology he began in Suspiria (1977) with another loose sequel. It's telling that his immediate followup to Inferno, 1982's Tenebrae, was-- despite its being named after one of the Three Mothers-- a back-to-basics giallo. But the notion of a third film never totally faded, and by early 2006 it had acquired its financing from both Italian and American production studios and was on its way to being born.

What rough beast was born out of this deal is a melange of Argento's various periods and styles, all blurring and blending together into a frenzied, volatile, and yet often silly attempt to recapture the favorable critical regard of earlier years. There's decided effort here from Argento (in contrast to some of his other recent works) and this effort results in The Mother of Tears being a provocative film-- one that occasionally brushes up against the aesthetic chills of Argento's peak-- but it's never a satisfying viewing experience, and far less of a satisfying trilogy capper. Like Inferno, it's a messy, at times inscrutable fairy tale, but what coherence Inferno gained from its nightmare logic is traded in for the cheap but nonsensical magical wizardy of Mother of Tears, by which Asia Argento's character can become invisible when she concentrates really hard and the shimmering, floating ghost of Daria Nicolodi can manifest at convenient moments to drag demons down through a craggy portal to a computer-generated hell. These new elements feel frighteningly unimaginative-- the stuff of a lazy fantasist who has chewed on a few too many magical beans-- and those other fresh ingredients added to Argento's stew (like flesh-munching zombies and sudden demon face jump scares) are swiped directly from modern mainstream horror's typical bland entrees. (Credit where credit is due: The Mother of Tears was prescient in one aspect. It presented a series of wildly humorous unexplained mass suicides and murders-- including an uproarious scene in which a new mother throws her literal baby doll off a tall bridge-- a whole year before M. Night Shyamalan would concoct the same in his enviably insipid new comedy classic The Happening (2008).)

The "new things" that The Mother of Tears does it does poorly, without artistic finesse or the proper reverence for what had come before. (The film explicitly retcons the events of Suspiria in order to give a secondary character in this one a more prominent role, it recasts Udo Kier and Daria Nicolodi as entirely new characters from their previous appearances in the trilogy, and it banks on the fact that the viewer won't recognize how fundamentally similar its plot is to that of Inferno.) But, then, the whole ordeal is sort of worth it to glimpse the director's dark dreams alive on the screen once again, however fleetingly: an early scene, in which half-seen demons disembowel a young art curator in a museum and Asia's character, catching sight of the carnage, attempts to silently flee while being sniffed out by a cackling monkey, is the most suspenseful and visually appealing he's captured in over a decade. But that scene's existence within the film is more disheartening than anything else: the nicest thing one can say about The Mother of Tears, as a whole, is that it has its moment.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jenifer (2005) / Pelts (2006) dir. Dario Argento

Jenifer (2005)

Logline: Frank Spivey (Steven Weber), a police officer, saves a horrifically disfigured young woman, Jenifer (Carrie Fleming), from being murdered by a meat cleaver-wielding madman. Discovering that she has nowhere else to go and finding himself inexplicably drawn to her, Spivey invites Jenifer to stay in his home, despite his family's reservations. When Jenifer begins to reveal her true sinister nature, Spivey's life spirals out of control as he attempts-- against all rational judgement-- to protect her.

From 2005 to 2006, Argento kept himself busy with TV work. His muddled, visually nondescript Italian made-for-TV feature, Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005), proved through its amateurish slog of far-from-clever intertextual references and scenes of near anti-suspense that one can revere Hitchcock without necessarily emulating him. Lacking even the absurdity of an earlier turd like The Card Player (2004), Do You Like Hitchcock? is perhaps the worst film Argento has yet made, and-- at the time-- it seemed to signal a concerning descent into TV-budget schlock. The film hinted that Argento was content to slum it on the small screen (which he hadn't done since early in his career, with 1973's Door into Darkness), where he could ineptly and lazily fumble around in the general wheelhouse of his past glories without necessarily having to please producers fretting about potential box office returns and international sales. Rather than exploiting these relative freedoms and becoming a vessel for experimentation, Do You Like Hitchcock? smells of nothing more than a quick paycheck rooted in the name recognition he'd built from the product of better days. For the handful of months between July and November of 2005, things were looking grimmer-than-usual in the career of one of Italian horror's perennials. 

For Argento to follow-up this ill-conceived TV venture shortly thereafter with yet two more TV ventures only served to make the state of his career appear increasingly desperate, at least initially. Fortunately, the two short films that Argento contributed to Mick Garris's Masters of Horror anthology program for the Showtime network, "Jenifer" and "Pelts," aren't quite the harbingers of obsolescence that Do You Like Hitchcock? was. What they are is decidedly mixed bags of (somewhat shockingly) new tricks. Neither film is quite like anything Argento has produced in the past, perhaps due to the fact that they are the first time that he's shied away from working on the screenplay of one of his films. Both shorts are about supernatural subjects, but they possess little of the breezy surreal fantasy of an Inferno (1980) or a Phenomena (1985). Rather, they're gory, morbidly humorous morality fables in the tradition of 1950s horror comic books. (Not coincidentally, "Jenifer" was adapted by star Steven Weber from a short in a 1974 issue of the horror anthology comic Creepy, a long-running EC knockoff.) Moreover, their major point of departure from the dulling visual blandness of Do You Like Hitchcock? is that both "Jenifer" and "Pelts" look good. Though they carry that unmistakable made-for-TV glow, it's apparent that these weren't sloppy or careless productions. The cast and crew behind Argento turn in fine work on both shorts, resulting in the most competently put together Argento films since Sleepless (2001).

But there is a problem with these Masters of Horror episodes, beyond their moral simplicity: they are above all else achingly misogynistic pieces that construct their female characters as nothing more than demonic sirens leading hapless men to beastly ends. These females' only currency-- both as characters and as narrative devices-- is sex, and they trade in it for their own selfish gain at the expense of the men, who are drawn about helplessly by their groins. What's worse is that the "moral message" of each film is tied into the dangerous temptation that these women pose, urging men to avoid contact with them or else prepare to face the bloody consequences. This is a crude old sexist moral gong to bang (and I mean really old, like Proverbs old), and it results in the films being about as subtle as a witch burning. True, Argento didn't write either of these tales, but he did film them. His culpability can't be totally brushed aside.

The first tale, "Jenifer," is the most egregious offender on this count. Steven Weber's family man police officer, Frank Spivey, is seduced away from said family and into covering up heinous acts by the vile Jenifer, resulting in his own downfall. Jenifer is an interesting character, if only for how far she's been reduced into a gendered narrative device. She's a mute demonic entity of unclear origins (perhaps, in the film's logic, being a woman is demonic enough) and her dual nature-- as seductress and devourer-- is inscribed physically, as physicality is all that she's been provided:  her face is horrifically disfigured-- equipped with a monstrous, snarling mouth-- but she sure does have a rockin' bod otherwise. She is the promise of sex and the hardly concealed "dangers" of sex made flesh. Throughout the film, Jenifer feigns supplication and gratitude (usually of a sexual nature) to Spivey for his efforts in saving and protecting her. In truth, she's using him to cover up her mess, as she tends to destroy (and eat) all that she encounters. The mallet-to-the-head subtlety of the circular ending reveals that Jenifer has been cycling through men for some time now, using them up until they've cracked before replacing them with new saps. The darkly comedic tone of "Jenifer" doesn't earn it a pass for its repugnant formulation of women and male-female relationships, and Argento proves his old detractors right through his association with it.

Pelts (2006)

Logline: Magic raccoons with beautiful pelts are trapped and killed by John Saxon who then sells them to Meat Loaf who himself hopes to make these beautiful, magical pelts into a fur coat for a lesbian stripper who will then (being grateful) allow him to have sex with her. Unfortunately for these folks and their selfish desires, dreadful events befall anyone who chances into contact with these magical pelts.

"Pelts," Argento's second season contribution to Masters of Horror, is only slightly less misogynistic than its predecessor, partly because it has another moral message to jackhammer home: killing animals for their pelts is wrong. Yes, that is exactly as complex as this one's political message aims for. It accomplishes this lofty message by giving just desserts to those folks involved in every step of the fur trade, magically forcing them to commit on themselves the same atrocities they commit on helpless animals for a living. This scenario leads to some rather gory fun, but you'd refrain from calling it an intelligent critique of a bloody business enterprise. Adapted from a story by writer F. Paul Wilson, "Pelts" was apparently "tarted up" by Argento and screenwriter Matt Venne in its journey to the small screen. Because its misogynistic content crops up in that added sex and strip club sequences, we can probably blame its sexist attitude on them rather than Wilson. See, lustful fur trader Jake Feldman (Meat Loaf) will do anything to have sex with sultry stripper Shanna (Ellen Ewusie), regardless of the fact that she's gay. When he encounters the magical raccoon pelts in question, his first thought is to make them into a stunning coat that Shanna can model in exchange for the opportunity to get it on with her. When presented with the fur coat and Feldman's offer, Shanna agrees. (This is, according to what Wilson writes in his above linked post, in direct contrast to the outcome of his story.) Shanna betrays her own sexuality and lowers herself to have sex with Feldman, whom she quite dislikes, for the mere privilege of wearing a more-or-less useless material good. Women, of course, are always seduced by signs of wealth and will do anything to achieve them. Didn't you know this? Similarly to Frank Spivey in "Jenifer," Feldman is presented as a victim of his uncontrollable desires (though a far less sympathetic one, in consequence of the "fur trapping is evil" angle). This whole business with the furs might not have happened if Feldman didn't need to impress Shanna in order to convince her to sleep with him, and his total effort to give her everything she wants from him is rendered, graphically, at the conclusion of the film as him literally giving her the skin off his back (his skin, in this instance, standing in for his shirt). Gee, what a noble, selfless guy.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

June 2013's Footstones

Being a List of the Assorted Horrors I've Consumed During the Month of June, 2013.

V/H/S/2 (2013) dir. Eduardo Sánchez, Adam Wingard, Gareth Huw Evans, et al.

The loathing at the foundation of my being that I felt for the first film in the V/H/S anthology series was generated by three salient facts about its production: 1) the repugnant "ironic" misogynism derived from its meathead fraternity party tone, 2) its lack of interest in the found footage genre as anything but a cheap delivery system for "BOO!s," and 3) a disinterest in employing the horror anthology format to create a coherent world for its stories. Sadly, my complaints matter very little to anyone, and V/H/S was a resounding financial success on VOD and home video, especially considering its scrappy roots, and thus a fast-tracked sequel was greenlit soon after its general release. The infernal spawn of this newly fledged series, V/H/S/2, featuring a new crop of established horror directors trying their hands at the shaky cam, is embarrassingly bad.

All of my complaints about the original are present here, supplemented with some new ones. As a found footage film, it hardly registers as attempting a semblance of verisimilitude. We find tapes edited together from multiple cameras, nonstop lazy fantasy camera gimmicks, non-diegetic scores and Inception foghorns, and the requisite post-production camera malfunctions. Like that of the previous film, Simon Barrett's wraparound story makes no attempt to connect the individual stories into a larger fictional world (which appears to now contain winged demons, zombies, aliens, ghosts, and a goat-headed Antichrist) or explore the origins or purpose of the bizarre underground VHS tape fetishism club that is the film's flimsy conceit. The existence of these perfunctory wraparound stories in the V/H/S films is a head-scratcher. If the filmmakers don't care about developing a unified world for these short films, why bother with including this weak connective tissue? Why not simply present them as a collection of short films? The only conceivable answer is that the filmmakers wish to include a believable, realistic narrative framework to explain how the audience is seeing the shorts, but this effort is made to seem ludicrous when contrasted against the films' copious technical  dismissals of logic and reality. Otherwise, the wraparounds simply provide more opportunities for between-story cutaways to quick shots of figures lurking in the background, and that's always a plus, right? Right? As is the case with the initial film, if this is not an entirely cynical appeal to the lowest common denominator's wallets then I am extremely depressed.

The shorts in brief: Adam Wingard's "Clinical Trials" displays the same oafishness as his contribution to the last film, including-- as it does-- the suggestion that ghost attacks can be prevented by having sex with a nude woman while a literal voyeuristic male camera eye watches the action. How did this man also make the wonderful A Horrible Way to Die (2010)? Eduardo Sánchez, fresh off the fantastic Lovely Molly (2012), takes a huge step backwards in his subgenre efforts with his short "A Ride in the Park," which is an only partly clever concept stranded without a story (and half of that concept is swiped-- almost certainly unintentionally-- from the insufferable Last Ride (2011)). Jason Eisener's short "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" is an obnoxious riff on Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County (1998) with trying-too-hard dog-splatter shock value. I'll give a hesitant seal of approval to Gareth Huw Evans's section, "Safe Haven," which contains an ounce of narrative and is at least amusing in its nonsensical mayhem, but it's clear that this short (already the film's longest by a good margin) could have benefited from the fleshing out that a full-length feature could provide.

As a whole, this is the worst sort of creatively barren dreck. It closes with a shotgun-blasted tongue wagging, a thumbs up, and a split-second frame showcasing some bare breasts. Bravo. I'm being harsh about this film and its makers but that's because there's some (seemingly) talented people behind it and their efforts are no more complex than a Youtube "REAL GHOST" video with mediocre production values. The FF mode of storytelling fascinates me because of its potential for subtlety and unique storytelling possibilities, but more and more often lately it's being used (and abused) by hack filmmakers to create so-called "visceral experiences" that are so calculated, phony, and devoid of story that it prevents any sort of immersion within the cinematic world. And being that immersion is what these filmmakers seem to want to accomplish with the aesthetic, what's the fucking point if you ignore reality and narrative coherency for the sake of convenience and lazy thrills? I don't think the people behind this movie are stupid, so my only guess is that they don't care. They see (correctly, unfortunately) that teenagers and indiscriminate horror fans flock to low-budget, low-effort FF films with copious jump scares, so they set out to make some (quickly, cheaply) in that mold. I think the V/H/S films are a high profile demonstration of how allowing FF to become pure aesthetic rather than a mode in which to tell a story produces nothing of any value. Anthology horror films, by their nature, can often be slight, but this thing is non-existent.

Hatchet III (2013) dir. BJ McDonnell

Imagine if the opening scene of Jason Goes to Hell (1993) had been stretched out into two feature length films. Now crawl into a ball and begin muttering to yourself while swatting imaginary flies wearing "Hatchet Army" t-shirts. Adam Green has done well for himself against the odds, establishing (on the strength of really only one film and a tacky seasonal online short) a coterie of genre fans who salivate over his work and defend it with passion. This adoration has elevated him to the status of a bonafide genre personality (he co-stars in a sitcom about himself, for Gozer's sake!) and his chief creation, the ghostly disfigured hillbilly Victor Crowley, into the pantheon of iconic indestructible slasher baddies. It's important to note how remarkable an achievement this is, regardless of the quality of the films that Green has had a hand in. There are three Hatchet movies. How did this happen, especially after the critical, financial, and PR disaster that was Hatchet II (2010)? Scott Glosserman tried to create a new franchise villain for the genre the year before Green with his superior film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) and has unequivocally failed, so such a task appears downright herculean in the post-'80s horror landscape. And yet Hatchet is now a trilogy

The initial Hatchet is a fun enough film, and though it's steeped in juvenile humor it also manages to overcome those groans and become (on occasion) genuinely frightening, primarily due to our uneasiness over the hulking Crowley and his abilities. Hatchet II finds the navigation between humor and horror more arduous: misogynist "jokes" dominate and the practical gore is played exclusively for "laughs." Worse, we're shown too much concerning Victor Crowley's convoluted background, which demystifies this spectral baddie while trying to make us sympathetic to his plight. Hatchet II was not well received outside of Green's core fan base, and the unrated film was pulled from the several dozen cinemas it was playing in after only a few days. Perhaps the experience of that sequel soured Green from taking directing duties on this third chapter, though he remains on staff as writer and executive producer. (However, Green clearly has a sense of humor about himself: he cameos in Hatchet III for one brief shot as a man in the Sheriff's drunk tank who gives an offended look when the Sheriff (Zach Galligan), after being told the events of the previous two films, comments that the yarn is the stupidest he's ever heard.) 

Hatchet III is directed by Green's cameraman from the two previous films, though this passing of the reins makes very little difference: this is every bit what you'd expect of a second Hatchet sequel, if not somewhat less than. It lazily repeats the "mercenaries hunting down Crowley" story from Part II and does nothing else with it. The film even continues to take place on the very same night as the other two, as if the filmmakers are incapable of evolving their story out of familiar swamps, or perhaps hesitant to experiment with their barely-there formula and risk not giving those Hatchet Army standard bearers exactly what they want. Consequently, the film is littered with dumb jokes, excessive gore (of which some is bolstered with cheap computer VFX, effectively tarnishing the series' self-avowed practical effects cred), and too many glimpses of its invulnerable villain, who is less an agent of fear than a walking threshing machine. Seeing a welcome  yet bulkier Zach Galligan struggle through a Louisiana accent isn't enough of a draw to make the endeavor a worthwhile one. This, like its predecessor, is DTV garbage. The fact that-- technically-- it's not is one to admire, but I don't have to be happy about it.

Pacific Heights (1990) dir. John Schlesinger

Pacific Heights, John Schelesinger's high anxiety thriller about the horrors of financial responsibility and the sociopathic viciousness of those aspiring to maintain personal wealth, is one of the finest horror films of the 1990s. It's that almost unheard of thriller that manages to set its audience to squirming without resorting to egregious shock tactics. Rather, it taps into the subconscious nightmare of anyone who has ever had a monster for a landlord or tenant. Michael Keaton's sparse but perfect performance as the tenant from hell is effective because of his absent presence: he's the unseen monster making ceaseless noise behind the locked door. Worse, he's the monster with the legal right to be there. Although Pacific Heights seems to me to be pointedly critical of the desire for upward mobility, the foremost charge levied against the film is that it's a horror film for yuppies. But so what? I can't think of anything scarier than being a yuppie.