Friday, April 20, 2007

Checking in

I've been busily writing, which has kept me from blogging as much as usual. For those interested at all, it is indeed something trashy... Trashy enough that I'm unsure what will ever become of it past words I type onto a page for my own amusement and possibly that of a small circle around me. I'm enjoying the purity of the creative process quite a bit.

I was doing some random thinking on horror, as I often do... not that the work I'm writing is horror, by any normal definition, but it's still a subject I find myself coming back to often.

I was thinking about how, despite the general impression that horror is that it's dangerous, outside the mainstream of thought. The vast majority of it, however, serves more than anything else to confirm the basic tenets of societies values. Some people/forces are good. Some people/forces are evil. The good people/forces will recognize and fight the evil people/forces, and most of the time they'll win, but even if they don't, it's not an act of artistic subversion, but merely reinforces the need for society to shore up against evil in order to prevent such an end in real life.

As they go, the two basic "monsters" that defy this are werewolves and zombies, which are almost impossible to deal with in such a simplistic way. In fact, one can note that the rising and falling popularity of each seems generally to be during the same times.

The opposite, of course, is the madman and the vampire, which are almost impossible to complicate enough to take away their most basic reactionary nature as symbols of "the other". Even the positive or sympathetic approaches of recent years, nearly always reinforce societies values at their core. Much as it's impossible to build a church of Satan that doesn't in essence reinforce the core truth of the Judeo-Christian mythos, but oh, how they've tried...

It should be no surprise then that werewolves and zombies are easily my favorites. I will, and have, watch nearly anything with either of those. Not merely including some incredible garbage, but a lot that I knew was going to be garbage when I chose to watch it.

It all the more interesting that Dracula by Bram Stoker remains one of my favorite novels, and that while I've come to, if anything, avoid vampires among horror movies I choose to watch, I will, and have, watch literally anything that claims to be an adaptation of that novel, including some incredible garbage.


Damian said...

Some interesting thoughts here, Neil. It took me a very long time to be able to properly appreciate the horror film. Though it is still far from my favorite kind of movie (along with westerns and sci-fi), you are correct in that it can serve as an excellent opportunity to say significant things on the nature of good and evil... arguably better, or at least more "directly," than any other genre. Some of my favorite "horror" films (Psycho, The Exorcist, Seven, Interview with the Vampire, Silence of the Lambs, etc) do this very thing. They have actually gone on to become just some of my favorite films. Period.

I will confess to liking vampires more than zombies but that's just a personal preference and, like you, I happen to love Bram Stoker's Dracula and just about any film that touches that character (I was actually planning on writing about either Van Helsing or Dracula 2000 for the "Trashy Movie Blog-a-thon" but just didn't get around to it; now, of course, I wish I had). I even directed a stage production of Dracula this last Halloween. Now, THAT was fun!

Neil said...

Westerns are probably my favorite genre, although I have no ability to understand or articulate why.

I have some better ideas with horror regarding how extreme situations can bring out truths that are difficult to say in any other way. There's a remarkably beautiful moment in Return of the Living Dead in which an older man realizes he's becoming a zombie and goes about his suicide in a very ritualized and emotionally real way that it always makes me tear up... I can't think what outside a genre piece could quite capture that moment, and while its clearly fantasy, the emotional truth is pretty basic.

Neil said...

I'd have loved to have read your writings on either of those movies. I couldn't stand Van Helsing, but wanted to love it... I swear... I'm a defender of The Mummy and I love Hugh Jackman, but I just couldn't do it.

And, I must confess, that I've somehow managed not to watch Dracula 2000 or any of its sequels. I do always mean to. I was right there ready to, but I was profoundly disappointed when I found out it wasn't a modern retelling - something I've long argued for - and rather a sequel of whatever sort, that I skipped it and never got around to it. Weird since I've seen, and even revisited, plenty of Dracula movies since then.

The footnote on that: The Hollywood rule, almost never broken. Old horror novels are always adapted period, while old sci-fi novels are always updated. This is exactly the opposite of how the rule should be. First of all, it shouldn't be an absolute of any sort, secondly taking the immediacy out of horror is distancing and, as such, less frightening. Bram Stoker wrote a modern novel. The sci-fi one doesn't have as good a reason, I just like the look of it in period better.

Damian said...

I understand completely, Neil, because I happen to love spy/caper films and I'm not sure I could articulate precisely why either. Like horror movies, westerns may not be my favorite genre, but some of them are so brilliant (Unforgiven, The Searchers, Stagecoach, High Noon, etc) that I never tire of watching them.

I also understand your dislike of Van Helsing. I freely admit it's a terrible film, but still enjoyed it and somehow find myself wanting to watch it again on occasion. I guess the fact that it seemed to embrace its "badness" and not take itself too seriously (a common characteristic of Stephen Sommers' movies I've noticed) made its awfulness palatable, even appealing, for me.

The direct-to-video Dracula sequels aren't worth your time, but I think you personally might be intrigued by some of the elements in Dracula 2000. Yes, it's a highly flawed film but some of its elements make it an interesting watch. It's actually the movie that resurrected (no pun intended) my interest in that particular character and story.

First of all, although you are correct in that the film is not a modern re-telling of the Bram Stoker tale per se, it nevertheless takes place in our own reality and not the literary reality that Stoker wrote about. For example, in an early scene of the film, antiques dealer Matthew Van Helsing (played by the always marvelous Christopher Plummer) confesses to his assistant that he could never understand how his grandfather Abraham could have inspired a character out of "Bram Stoker's book." This signals to the audience that these characters live in the same world that we do, where Stoker and his novel actually exist and are well-known. This makes the events that we see, in a way, more "real" than if it were simply another adaptation (period or modern) of the book. Furthermore, like Wes Craven's own Scream franchise, it also allows for the filmmakers to engage in some clever "revisionist" storytelling. By setting the film outside of the book, they are no longer bound by Stoker's take on the history and origin and the Count. They can now "re-invent" the Dracula legend (keeping what they wish, of course, and using the defense that Stoker himself would've kept some things that were true but changed others to suit his own purposes) and, in fact, their explanation for who Dracula really is was one of my favorite aspects of the film.

Secondly, in addition to having a great Van Helsing in the person of Plummer, they have what has become my personal favorite actor to play Dracula: a then unknown Gerard Butler. This was the first film I ever saw Butler in and he immediately made a very strong impression on me. As I wrote, on the eve of 300's release, in a post entitled Did the Butler Finally Do It?:

"I vividly remember Dracula making his entrance on screen and thinking to myself "Whoa! Who is THAT?" First of all, the man (and I'm secure enough in my sexuality that I can say this) is gorgeous. Secondly, he had remarkable presence. Over the course of the film, Dracula does very little talking and yet Butler still commands the screen whenever he's on it. When he does speak it's in a rather sinister whisper, giving him far more strength and power than if he were waving his arms about and shouting angrily."

I actually modeled the Dracula of my own recent stage production more on Butler's interpretation than any other actor's. Despite the movie's many shortcomings, I think it's worth seeing for Butler alone. Inciddentally, I am actually really glad that he is now finally starting to get the attention that I feel he deserves. As I said to myself when I saw the film: "Keep an eye on this guy. He's gonna be a star."

Don't get me wrong, though, as with Van Helsing there is much about Dracula 2000 to dislike, but again I happen to love the film it and feel compelled to revisit it every now and again (I guess I more or less adopt the "glass is half full" philosophy on these movies). So, I can recommend it to you but with reservation. If you decide to check it out, try not to expect too much and you might end up being plesantly surprised. I just fugures that as a self-professing "Dracula fan" you might possibly enjoy it more than most people would.

(I just realized that this was a very long response. Sorry about that. I guess it got a little away from me there.)

Piper said...

So Neil,

What's your favorite werewolf, vampire and zombie movie?

BTW, have you seen Dog Soldiers? Not a bad werewolf movie. Liked it more than The Decent.

Neil said...

Damian: Thanks for that wonderful response. I wouldn't expect Dracula 2000 to be anything but flawed, but, as I said, I've certainly watched a lot of bad movies in my Dracula viewing history and I'm quite intrigued by the Gerard Butler performance now.

Piper: Werewolf - The Wolf Man is pretty hard to beat, although so are An American Werewolf in London and Ginger Snaps. I also think The Curse of the Werewolf is terribly underrated and features a magnificent performance by Oliver Reed. And, yes, Dog Soldiers is great and much better than The Descent, which has some amazing chilling moments, but didn't work for me overall.

Vampire - I suppose it's just Nosferatu. I'm struggling on this one... it seems like there must be one without a connection to Dracula that I love unabashedly... Hell, it seems like there should be a second Dracula movie I love unabashedly, but none are coming to me at this writing.

Zombie - Well, Night of the Living Dead is the scariest movie I've ever seen and sits comfortably in my Top 10 movies of all time. I could go on for pages about which zombie movies I also love, because I'm a total sucker for them and love even most of the crappy ones.

Piper said...

Here's where I am:

Werewolf: An American Werewolf In London, The Howling. I saw the Howling before I should have when I was younger and it freaked me out. It still sticks with me.

Vampire is harder: I'm not really traditional with this. Blade and Near Dark and probably Rabid.

Zombie: 28 Days Later, Dawn Of The Dead

Neil said...

I love The Howling. It certainly belongs on the list there somewhere very high.

Near Dark is a terrific choice. I wish I'd thought of it. Brilliant. I kept wishing there existed a fully satisfying version of "I Am Legend", because that is certainly my favorite vampire novel... or, at least, second to "Dracula". Rabid is an interesting choice. A favorite, but it didn't occur to me. Nice thinking.

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