August 19, 2014

Scream (1996) And Scream Again - Movies At Dog Farm Commands It

Scream (1996) poster
     The horror genre had a hard row to hoe in the '90s.  Sure, there were good horror movies to be found, but you had to cast a pretty wide net.  In particular, mainstream horror releases were all but extinct by the end of the decade.  The horror genre has always been cyclical, but there's no debating that it was about as close to occupying its own pine box by the end of the 90's as it's ever been.  Then a funny thing happened - literally.  Aspiring screenwriter and horror buff Kevin Williamson wrote a script called Scary Movie that paid knowing homage to the threadbare conventions of the slasher movie genre.  His screenplay became the subject of a bidding war, and Miramax ultimately won said war.  Iconic horror movie director Wes Craven was persuaded to direct, a talented group of attractive young up-and-comers was cast, and Miramax brass decided to change the project's name to Scream (1996) at the eleventh hour to better reflect the nature of this unprecedented hybrid of horror and comedic satire.   

     Scream was released on December 20th, 1996 in a bold attempt to counter-program the typically family oriented Christmas season.  It seemed initially that the attempt had failed, as Scream opened to a relatively soft $6 million take and finished second behind Beavis And Butthead Do America.  That's when the funny thing happened.  Rather than falling off sharply in its second weekend of release - the historically proven norm for horror releases both then and now - Scream began to gather steam.  It's box office actually improved in its second week, and it continued to improve for several weeks thereafter.  When all was said and done, Scream worked its way to a total U.S. gross of over $100 million.  Not coincidentally, the long moribund horror genre finally came off life support at roughly the same time.

Ghostface in the garage from Scream (1996)
Ghostface trying to get the damned garage door opener to work in Scream (1996)

     If you don't think Scream almost single-handedly resuscitated the horror genre, you either weren't around at the time, or you weren't paying attention.  Scream is plagued by the same oddly horror-centric scenario as Halloween (1978).  Namely, it's a stunningly original and successful release that's remembered more for the scads of inferior copies it "inspired" than for its own considerable merit.  That's the price trailblazing horror movies often pay for doing something so indisputably right that all the hacks see only dollar signs.

     For reasons I've never fully understood, Scream is often derided by genre fans.  Is it the self-reflexive humor that prompts the abuse?  Maybe some serious horror fans just can't take a little good-natured ribbing at their own expense.  The clever, airtight script was clearly written from a place of love, so why the offense?  Scream is certainly more respectful of the genre it reverently mocks than dross like the seemingly never ending Scary Movie franchise that appropriated the name.

Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker in Scream (1996)
Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) losing a high stakes game of trivia in Scream (1996)

     Maybe Scream is maligned by taste-makers because it isn't scary.  Well, I call shenanigans on that.  The opening segment featuring Drew Barrymore's character Casey Becker being terrorized by the perversely playful Ghostface killer is still as effective a chunk of horror as the genre has ever produced.  The already savaged and dying Becker crawling unheard across the grass toward her still oblivious parents is chilling.  Director Craven doesn't pull any punches with the horrific elements of the script, and if you think otherwise then you owe it to yourself to revisit Scream.

     Scream revitalized a flagging horror genre when it needed it most, and hat's off for that.  It put a fresh spin on one of the most hackneyed and trivialized sub-genre's in horror.  It delivered a subversive blend of winking self-awareness without sacrificing the horror at the movie's core.  Best of all - in what I think is one of Scream's most overlooked accomplishments - it made us all give a damn about the good guys again instead of just rooting for them to be struck down by the masked killer.  I love the fact that different individuals don the mask in each successive entry, and it's the good guys that won't stay down rather than the bad guys.  David Arquette's stalwart  Deputy Dewey should rightfully have died several times throughout the course of the franchise, and yet he always shows up again for the next sequel.  And because we love the character, we allow it, just as we allow the bad guys like Michael, Jason, and Freddy to keep coming back even though we know better.  That completely flips the script, and the Scream franchise is the better for it.

     If it's been a while since you last watched Scream, do yourself a favor and pick up the first three movies on Blu-Ray.  They're packaged together in a single set that's only ten dollars at your local Target.  If your a completist, you can pick up Scream 4 (2011) for only five bucks more.  Seriously, where else are you gonna get that much entertainment for only fifteen bucks?  Turn down the lights, pop yourself some popcorn, and let yourself enjoy a horror movie again.

August 8, 2014

All Cheerleaders Die (2013) - The Dog Farm Gets Its Panties In A Twist

All Cheerleaders Die (2013) poster

     So many horror movies revolve around teenagers, and as a viewer grows older it becomes increasingly difficult to relate.  Teens have a tendency to be overly dramatic and self-involved.  An ultimately inconsequential exchange often seems to have an import far out of proportion to its true significance.  Every social interaction has the potential to completely ruin a teen's life.  Social standing trumps all in the relatively uncomplicated hierarchy of high school.  Everyone has a role to fill, and only an elite few - the jocks and cheerleaders - get to set atop the pyramid of social relevancy.  The goths, metalheads, stoners, geeks, academics, loners, and outwardly awkward and unattractive kids make up the broad base of that pyramid upon which the privileged few rule from the pinnacle on high.

    Of course, the preceding is a somewhat inaccurate worldview.  High school is really more of an inverted pyramid wherein the majority of the kids feel disenfranchised and misunderstood, even those jocks and cheerleaders.  The true social pariahs, the kids with the real problems, are the ones beneath the narrow point of this inverted pyramid.  Sadly, those kids often end up crushed beneath its weight, unnoticed or unheard until they either collapse or erupt into violence that compromises the base of this unstable, top-heavy construction and has serious and far-reaching consequences for all.  Unfortunately it's often not until then, when the surviving teens are left to pick through the ruins and try to make sense of the tragedy, that they begin to understand what it means to really have problems. 

the cheerleaders of All Cheerleaders Die
All cheerleaders...
     What does all this philosophical contemplation have to do with the new horror movie All Cheerleaders Die (2013)?  Not much, actually.  All Cheerleaders Die doesn't address these serious and weighty issues at all.  Should it?  Hell no.  It's a friggin B-movie.  It deals in the stereotypes that populate the high school social hierarchy as most teens imagine it, and that's as it should be.  It's an entertainment, for Pete's sake.  It's a horror/comedy that pretty much states its intent with its exploitative title.  No one expects a movie called All Cheerleaders Die to be a cinematic treatise about the tragedy of teen-on-teen violence.  My point is this: why does it seem so many reviewers have  taken this movie to task for not being more thematically profound or socially incisive when it plainly just wants to have a little fun rearranging the stereotypes that serve as the building blocks of so many teen horror movies?

     In particular, it seems many critics are disappointed that All Cheerleaders Die doesn't do more with the subversion of the gender objectification that's part and parcel of far too many genre movies.  All Cheerleaders Dies is so obviously intended first and foremost as an entertainment that I can't for the life of me understand why so many reviewers are determined to be disappointed or outraged that it isn't a full-bore feminist declaration.  Where does that expectation come from, and how is that any more reasonable an expectation than thinking such a movie would boast a serious examination of teen violence?

blood sucking cheerleader from All Cheerleaders Die cheerleader...
     Even if, for argument's sake, that was one of the primary objectives of the filmmakers here - and to be fair, it may well have been* - then what All Cheerleaders Die accomplishes is arguably far more subversive and effective than what its critics seem to have expected of it, anyway.  Everyone knows that horror movies are targeted primarily at a young, male demographic, right?  Surely the promise of sex and violence implied by that blunt title will bring all the boys running.  If that doesn't, a few promotional stills of the undeniably attractive young female cast members will.

a date-raping jackass from All Cheerleaders Die
...a date-raping jackass...
     And what will those impressionable young boys find when they actually watch the movie?  They'll find a movie that tweaks their expectations by knowingly subverting them at almost every turn.  They'll find a movie that pokes fun at the way guys are conditioned by our gender-biased society at large - and horror movies in particular -  to see females only as victims or conquests.  They'll find a horror movie told from an almost entirely female perspective that cleverly forces them to identify with the female protagonists by depicting almost all of the male characters as violent, stupid, one dimensional, date-raping jackasses.  Most importantly, they'll find a movie that entertains them for ninety minutes - a sly spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.  I think that's pretty good for a modest, low budget horror movie.

     If ever a male working in the horror genre has earned the benefit of the doubt insofar as his intended message regarding gender politics, it's co-writer/co-director Lucky McKee.  He presented us with the complex and believable female characterizations of The Woods (2006).  He challenged us with a bold and uncompromising tale of female objectification ultimately punished by violent retribution in The Woman (2011).  His directorial debut May (2001), the sublime and haunting story of a troubled young woman making increasingly desperate attempts to connect with the world around her, may just be one of the most touching female-centric narratives the genre has ever produced.  So how about everyone just calm the f**k down, not be quite so eager to hang the man in the village square, and recognize All Cheerleaders Die for what it is?

a dead cheerleader from All Cheerleaders Die
...and a dead cheerleader.
     All Cheerleaders Die is clearly the most blatantly commercial movie with which McKee has yet been involved, and kudos to both him and his co-writer/co-director Chris Sivertson (The Lost, 2006) for managing to make a popular entertainment that still manages to knowingly circumvent the conventions propagated by most other movies of its type.  Lest I be misunderstood, I don't mean to imply that All Cheerleaders Die is some kind of misunderstood masterpiece.  It's not.  It is, however, a rollicking bit of B-movie entertainment that kept me engaged throughout by flinging a little gore around, boasting better than average performances, and keeping me guessing from beginning to end.  It still manages to get in a few well placed jabs at the leering male gaze that dominates horror without being heavy handed about it, and it's not rife with the rampant misogyny that often characterizes the genre.  I think that should have been good enough for the high-minded critics who seem to have expected more.  All Cheerleaders Die isn't going to single-handedly alter anyone's views on gender inequality any more than it's going to ignite a serious discussion about the tragedy of teen violence, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't meant to.

August 4, 2014

The Movies At Dog Farm Virtual Drive-In Won't Stay Down - Join Us For The Stuff (1985) This Month!

Movies At Dog Farm Virtual Drive-In graphic

     The Movies At Dog Farm Virtual Drive-In is coming back this month just like a horror movie slasher that won't stay dead.  Click here for details on how to participate.  The selection for August is Larry Cohen's The Stuff (1985) 

                                                  Are you eating it . . . or is it eating you?

Garrett Morris FX head in The Stuff (1985)
An FX head of Garrett Morris (I hope) in The Stuff (1985)

     Scheduled showtime is Sunday, August 10th at 8:30 pm Eastern Standard.  I'll open the Google Hangout at around 8:00 pm just in case anyone wants to chat for a while before the movie.  Don't wait until the last minute to sign up, since the hangout can only accommodate ten participants at once!

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