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Tony Timpone’s Elegies: Fall Frights, Part One

Originally posted on 2010-09-16 16:16:07 by Tony Timpone

I recently caught the new PIRANHA 3D at a local theater (with only three other people in the audience!), and what impressed me the most, besides PIRANHA’s nude lesbian underwater ballet scene, was the plethora of trailers for upcoming horror movies debuting this fall: RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE, CASE 39, MY SOUL TO TAKE, LET ME IN, etc. In the lobby, the long walls of the multiplex were filled with one-sheet posters for more fright flicks: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, SAW 3D, BURIED… From now through the end of October, prepare to be scared. Besides over a dozen major theatrical feature movies rolling out, ’tis the season for: horror film festivals from coast to coast; classic repertory revivals (happy 50th, PSYCHO); endless monster movie marathons on cable; terror TV series returning (SUPERNATURAL, DEXTER, FRINGE) and beginning (THE WALKING DEAD. Nuff said); and DVD debuts (the FANGORIA FrightFest hits everywhere September 28) will join the competition for our Halloween attention. As I’ve said before, can you think of any better time to be a horror fan? But will this embarrassment of riches, specifically movie-wise, cancel each other out? Is there a big enough horror audience out there to support, for example, HATCHET II, CASE 39 and LET ME IN all opening on the same day?! Will the box office be so divided that no one emerges as true financial victor and all the rival pictures cancel each other out? This fall could really be a Halloween bloodbath in more ways than one.

Certainly last weekend’s RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE got things off to a strong start, with the 3-D sequel taking in a franchise record north of $26 million (the hiked ticket prices helped). I enjoyed the fourth film more than the last two; it’s popcorn-munching, action-packed fun, albeit instantly forgettable. This Friday Drew & John Erick Dowdle’s DEVIL hopes to knock RESIDENT EVIL from it perch. The movie comes from the mind of, ahem, writer/producer M. Night Shyamalan, who envisions DEVIL as the first in a series of low-cost genre fare he dubs the Night Chronicles. Hard to believe how far the director has fallen from the Oscar-nominated heights of THE SIXTH SENSE to the unwatchable lows of THE LAST AIRBENDER and THE HAPPENING. But after checking out DEVIL’s trailer, I’m willing to give the movie—about five people trapped in an elevator, with one of them being Satan—a shot. It could play out like a paranoid, suspenseful TWILIGHT ZONE-esque spinetingler if the Dowdles (of QUARANTINE) steer this one right and the film overcomes its unfortunate Shyamalan stigma. Check out our interview with DEVIL star Bokeem Woodbine right here.

Lionsgate scored at the summer box office with THE EXPENDABLES and THE LAST EXORCISM (the latter sunk PIRANHA at theater turnstiles), and this fall the indie company digs up BURIED. The thriller, about a man (Ryan Reynolds) entombed alive with only 90 minutes of oxygen, has won rave reviews at festivals and is expected to be a major sleeper. Directed by Spaniard Rodrigo Cortés, BURIED will be exhumed September 24 in limited release, before going wider on October 8. IRREVERSIBLE director Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID, about a man’s hallucinogenic afterlife experience, also opens on Sept. 24 in a few key cities (and VOD) from IFC Films. Expect the same kind of controversy and critical split that greeted the French provocateur’s previous efforts. And if you’ve never seen THE EXORCIST on the big screen, check it out on September 30 (one night only; see here for theaters) for a special theatrical showing to jumpstart interest in the looming Blu-ray launch the following week. THE EXORCIST has lost none of its infernal punch.

On October 1, three—count ’em, three—major fear films assault theaters. Of course, most of us are a little reluctant to embrace LET ME IN, the English language remake of the Swedish masterpiece LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, one of the best genre films ever. I thought the original Tomas Alfredson directed movie, based on the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel, would be untouchable. But now we have an English version, written and directed by CLOVERFIELD’s Matt Reeves, brought to us by Overture Films (who gave us the superior redux of THE CRAZIES) and a reborn Hammer Films. The plot follows that of its predecessor very closely, about a lonely boy who falls for a vampire girl. The casting of LET ME IN couldn’t be better: THE ROAD’s Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz of KICK-ASS, the latter one of my favorite movies of the year, as the lovesick kids, plus Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins and busy character actor Elias Koteas (CRASH, SKINWALKERS, THE PROPHECY, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, SHUTTER ISLAND—the guy’s in everything!) also turn up in key roles. 

Despite high expectations, both Fango managing editor Michael Gingold (see his review here) and contributing editor Sam Zimmerman give thumb’s up to the remake, largely due to the skillful work of Reeves and his fidelity to the brilliant source material. You can count me in for LET ME IN.

The big news about HATCHET II, also opening on October 1, is that it will be going out unrated and uncut—and in more theaters than any non-MPAA-approved film in decades. No token playdates here. Bugged by the spotty releases of his first HATCHET and FROZEN, writer/director (and indefatigable self-promoter) Adam Green has a huge grassroots campaign going to get butts into seats in his bid to make slasher Victor Crowley (fearsome Kane Hodder) a name worthy of the ranks of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. If gorehounds want to see more ’80s-style splatter on the big screen, they should run to their local AMC (see list here) next month. Though I felt it unfairly overshadowed the superior (and more subversive) BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, I liked the original HATCHET, so I’ll be watching the next round of dismemberments in all their uncensored gory glory. Kudos to distribs Dark Sky and Vitagraph, as well as the AMC chain, for taking the chance. 

If there’s any box office left during the October 1st weekend, the long delayed (shot in 2006!) CASE 39 will finally make its debut from Paramount Vantage. The movie stars Renée Zellweger as a social worker caring for a young girl (creepy Jodelle Ferland of SILENT HILL and ECLIPSE) who exhibits supernatural powers (shades of BLESS THE CHILD? Hope not!). Though backed by a snazzy marketing campaign and now able to brag about having THE HANGOVER’s Bradley Cooper in it cast, it will still be an uphill battle for a movie that, just months ago, seemed destined to go direct to DVD. I’ve dug the work of CASE 39 director Christian Alvart (ANTIBODIES and last fall’s flop PANDORUM, the latter lensed after CASE 39!) before, so perhaps this isn’t the lemon some have feared. Moreover, international response to CASE 39 has been encouraging, which prompted the studio to take the film off the shelf. But why send it out, like an unwanted stepchild, into a crowded fall marketplace? 

Another eight genre movies will open in the weeks after the October 1 trifecta. I’ll talk about them next time. 

TO BE CONTINUED

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