Monday, December 10, 2007

Race with the Devil

(Spoilers ahoy)
I'm not quite sure what it is about this classic piece of mid-70s heaven (or hell, rather) that makes it so genuinely creepy. Maybe it's the regularness of our victims (Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) as they head to Aspen in their 1975 tricked-out RV. Perhaps it plays to our essential vulnerability out in the world, away from home, stopping in places where we're strangers. Ever drive an isolated stretch of highway and wonder who lives in the out-of-the-way houses or works in the barely open businesses? What do they do for fun? Well, in the Texas community that our hapless tourists visit, canine and virgin sacrifices score high.

While camping in an idyllic setting their first night on the road, Oates and Fonda accidentally witness a satanic sacrifice, pack up their women, evade robed attackers and book it to a police station, only to discover the cops are a little weird. A cryptic rune left on the motor home the next day assures that the travelers have not seen the last of the cult. What follows is a mad dash across Texas, in search of a working payphone. Soon, the whole state is in on it, while the deteriorating RV smashes through roadblocks and escapes devil fans trying to run it off the road. The ending is a nice stunner, complete with 70s freezeframe. Drive-in headcount: 1 virgin, 2 dogs, 2 rattlesnakes, approximately 5 devil worshippers. How many RV occupants? If you haven't yet seen the movie, you'll have to watch it for that.

Unfortunately, Race with the Devil is being remade, with Chris Moore (Good Will Hunting, American Pie) as director. Casting and release date forthcoming. Of course there is always a chance it'll be watchable, but I doubt anyone could improve on the original. Bigger, more modern production values could only ruin (rune?) the charm.

Friday, November 30, 2007

30 Days of Night

My expectations weren't high for this one, mostly due to the presence of Josh Hartnett, who seems to doom every film he touches. So it was a great surprise to see the subject of vampires given new life and rebuilt with respect for its Nosferatu (Murnau) and Vampyr (Dreyer) foundations into a chilly and grim modern tale. 30 Days of Night chooses an underexploited backdrop -- a small Alaskan down during its month of ceaseless night. These vampires are genuinely creepy, though a few look to have escaped from a Marilyn Manson road crew. Their unknown and ancient language, reportedly made up by the writers, sounds Germanic, which again recalls the past's best vampires. The film is hyper-grisly for sure, but rightly sparing in story details that might spoil the menace of the vampires. How did they find this town? Where did they come from? What happened to the passengers on the ship they arrived on? What's going to happen next winter? Ben Foster is great as The Stranger. Few young actors are such consistent and believable nutcases. And Hartnett is actually watchable! I'm looking forward to reading the original graphic novels.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scared and loving it

Grudge 2 is on and though I've missed the beginning, it doesn't matter. It's lush and creepy, so who cares if the story doesn't hold together. Big-eyed, pale-skinned children have long been scary (All hail Village of the Damned). So are things that stand quiet and half hidden out of the corner of your eye, fleeting reflections -- you can't miss. The mundane is frightening too, as all the best horror writers know. Things like the shabby, worn tape over the door of the Grudge room that causes visitors so much grief. It's a beautifully shot picture.

So this week on my recommended list: The Poet and The Narrows, both by Michael Connelly, one of the best mystery writers going. Harry Bosch is a great, damaged character, joining Travis McGee (MacDonald) and Victor Carl (Lashner) as my top favorite detectives. I'm a few pages into Brother Odd, and since Koontz is unmatched as writer who can scare you and up your humanity quotient at the same time, it's going to be a pleasure, I'm sure. Good watches include Tranformers (amazing fx and not too treacly), Nip Tuck, as always, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.