Second Go Round

For my Sunday evening viewing pleasure, I decided to spend some time with horror film remakes.

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George are George and Kathy Lutz who, with her three children by a previous relationship, move into a house where a family was brutally murdered, the killer claiming that voices told him to do it. Pretty soon just about every cliche in the haunted house annex of the sfx armoury is being thrown at the screen in a, not entirely unsuccessful, attempt to make us jump. You want shadow figures running past in the corner of the screen? We got ’em! You want human faces transforming into demonic visogs, or creepy little girls that only appear in the mirror when you aren’t expecting them? We got those to spare. And so on, and so forth. My main problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind if it’s a haunted house story or a demonic possession story, with Reynolds slowly seguing into a passable impression of Jack Torrance as played by Jack Nicholson, and yeah, there is something of The Shining about all this. I’d rather they kept things simple, and subjected the Lutz family to just one road of attack. But of course it’s also supposed to be ‘Based on the true story’, though personally I have doubts that it’s even based on Jay Anson’s book, other than that the names have been retained to protect the ‘innocent’. The fabled Red Room, apparently not much more than a glorified closet in reality, has been turned into a many roomed sub-basement where preacher Jeremiah Katchem (Jack Ketchum?) tortured Indians over a hundred years before the actual property at 412 Ocean Avenue was built. A new story might have been a better jumping off point, rather than these claims to faux verisimilitude. The most interesting aspect for me was the hostility of Kathy’s children (and Melissa George looks a bit young to be the mother of teen Billy – there’s only 13 years between the actors) to George, the man who has ‘replaced’ their father. I wish that had been explored some more, in lieu of all the ‘gotya’ moments. Overall it was okay, but nowt special.

Prom Night (2008)

Nothing okay about this. I don’t recall watching the 1980 original, but if this improved on it then that film must have been truly dire. Donna’s family were slaughtered when teacher Richard Fenton became fixated on her. Now it’s three years later and Fenton has escaped from prison and turns up at Donna’s prom to pick up where they left off. I guess with the tagline ‘A Night to Die For’ the idea was to focus on the big night of a young girl’s life and how that gets ruined, but that doesn’t work so well for UK viewers on whom the whole mystique of the prom night is wasted. And this particular prom night seemed to be taking place on another planet, with the kids booking rooms at a luxury hotel, turning up in a huge stretch limo, walking up a red carpet while the crowd cheer and photographers take snaps. It felt like they happened to have some spare footage of a Hollywood first night lying around, and so decided to patch it into this. The kids were all so whitebread and wealthy and cocooned from the real world, that I just couldn’t care about any of them, no matter how sensitive the male lead is to Donna’s emotional needs. They were all just shreddies, and the killer took an unconscionable time shredding them (for a short film it seemed to have a lot of padding), while his ability to flout hotel security, escape from gaols and thwart the police was stretching credibility to the max. He didn’t actually jump over a high building with a mighty bound, but you got the impression it was only the low budget holding him back. Overall it was cheap exploitation, and boy, do I feel exploited. Ninety minutes of my life I want back.

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

I caught this at the cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt the same on watching the DVD last night. As with Prom Night it’s exploitation, but this time done right. Tom (Jensen Ackles) returns to Harmony ten years after a Valentine night massacre that claimed the lives of over twenty people, and no sooner does he set foot in the town than the killings start over again, video evidence showing a man dressed as a miner and slaying his victims with a pick axe. The locals fear that bogey man Harry Warden has returned from the grave, but there are other suspects. I liked pretty much everything about this. There are plenty of twists to the plot, even if I do feel they are cheating slightly with the reveal when we get to learn who the killer is. And the killer is impressive, helmet light shining and breathing heavily thanks to his mask, striding purposefully after his victims and wielding his weapon of choice with relentless ferocity. (NB Only in horror films does striding purposefully always beat out running frantically.) What gives it more substance though are those twists to the plot. Tom is in town to oversee the sale of the local mine, previously owned by his father, on which the community is dependent for jobs and livelihood, which adds another frisson. There is also tension between him and Sheriff Axel (Kerr Smith), a former friend whose path to marry Sarah (Jaime King) was cleared when Tom left town, old rivalries simmering away beneath the surface. And, while Prom Night seemed to be straining for ‘seriousness’ at times (risibly so), this film is unashamed of its ‘trash’ roots, with gratuitous nudity and over the top slayings. It is what a slasher film should be, brash and bold, and willing to risk falling flat on its face or offending good taste in its quest to give the viewer another cheap thrill. Overall it had plenty of those (and, as a sidebar, I recall that it worked rather well in 3D at the cinema, even if trying to view it on a small screen while wearing cardboard glasses made my head ache, so I had to switch to the 2D version).

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