Horror

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Inexplicably (you might think that’s irony, but I couldn’t possibly comment) watching horror movies continues to feel like a not inappropriate way to start 2017. And I got two more under my belt in the last couple of weeks.

Extinction

Misleading trailer alert! Well, slightly misleading. This is a more character-led and less action-driven movie than that trailer would suggest. For big chunks of the movie, it’s two guys and a young girl working out some of their issues in a bleak, wintry, post-apocalyptic world. But there are monsters, and they’re quite nicely conceived and designed. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but it’s a movie with its good points: some decent acting, a cool ice age-ish environment and some effective chills and creeps especially as it gets to the climax. If you like your horror with a healthy dose of character work and a focus on mood rather than all-out action, and your apocalypses kind of intimate instead of wide-screen, might be worth your time.

Train To Busan

Everyone knows East Asia is a bit of the world that knows how to do horror movies, right? Train To Busan is a nice bit of further supporting evidence for that. South Korea gets the zombie apocalypse treatment, and we see almost all of it through the eyes of a train-load of (mostly doomed, obviously) passengers who just want to stay alive long enough to reach some kind of sanctuary. There’s an array of fairly off-the-shelf characters – sports team, neglectfully work-oriented dad, daughter who wants her dad back, selfish businessman etc. – but they’re all made to bounce off each other very entertainingly and the zombie action (fast zombies, my favourite sort) is frantic and fun. And the way the movie uses the train as setting and plot device and action-architecture is great. It’s already slated for an English-language remake, which is rarely a recipe for improving on the original – so if you’re into zombie action, check out this version. I seriously doubt you’ll be disappointed.

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… which may or may not prove to be an appropriate curtain-raiser for the year. We shall see.

Anyway, I’m not that big on horror movies but I do indulge now and again. So here’re the three in which I recently indulged, all very different but all with much (or at least, in one case, something) to recommend them:

Green Room

Part horror, part violent thriller really, I suppose; no supernatural elements as such. Either way, a very tightly and smartly written, well-acted, engaging bit of film-making. It’s unsettling and unnerving rather than utterly horrific on the whole, but there are occasional outbursts of uncompromising and somewhat gruesome violence. It’s all the more effective because the violence just kind of … happens. It’s not artificially sign-posted or artfully choreographed. It just happens. Patrick Stewart and the sadly late Anton Yelchin are great in their roles.

Bone Tomahawk

Well that … that was … that was not a film I’m going to forget in a hurry. A very unusual horror-western. The first three quarters of it are mostly an intense, slow, very involving character study: bringing together four men into a posse and following them out into a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The script is extraordinary, with dialogue that’s both sort of naturalistic (as is everything else about the film – lighting, sound, etc.) and at the same time heightened and a bit baroque. The acting, from Kurt Russell and everyone else, is fairly low key, but brilliant. (In fact, I thought this was as good as I’ve seen Kurt Russell in years. Possibly ever!).

So yes. For the first 3/4 of the film, you’re watching a very good, if slightly odd, Western. And then … then it becomes an at times intensely disturbing horror movie. There is properly appalling violence in here – one scene in particular that I had to avert my eyes from – and it’s all the more effective because the character development has been so strong in what went before. I thought the whole thing was kind of brilliant, in its deeply idiosyncratic way. Despite the full-on horror, it’s in no sense a run-of-the-mill gorefest. This is almost arthouse horror.

I should probably add, I’m not sure the film quite earns the pass it’s trying for on its treatment of Native Americans. It does try, but I’m not sure it quite manages it. That caveat aside, it’s a remarkable piece of film-making. Which some people will hate, some will love. I’m a lot closer to the latter than the former.

The Return of the Living Dead

So, I said at the start of this that all these films have much to recommend them. That might have been stretching things a bit.

Truth is, the reason I watched this one is also the main thing it has going for it, really: nostalgia. I loved this movie when I was a teen. I loved its humour, its soundtrack, its general nuttiness. As zombie movies go, it’s far more interested in making you laugh – or at least smile – than in scaring you or creeping you out. Watching it as an adult, you do kind of notice some slightly dodgy acting among the minor characters, some pacing and structural issues. But it’s still kind of fun. And it’s definitely got that nostalgic kick for those of us (you?) who view the 1980s with a certain sort of affection …

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