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Under the Shadow

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies over the years, and the lesson I’ve learned is that if your kids or your spouse tell you there’s an evil spirit haunting the house, believe it. Under the Shadow is yet another example of that principle in action.

Shideh is a mother in the war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. Not only are the Iraqis threatening to destroy the city with Scud missiles, the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere, enforcing the strictest version of Islam imaginable. That fact has cost Shideh her chance at becoming a doctor, and when her husband is drafted to the front lines of the ongoing war, she is left broken-hearted and alone to protect their daughter. Every night, the threat of death by missile strike hangs in the air. When supernatural beings begin to threaten her sanity and her daughter’s safety, Shideh reaches her breaking point.

The best horror tells a story beyond the surface scares, and there’s no other genre more readily suited to addressing society’s problems and injustices. Iran, a modern state ruled by unpopular religious zealots, presents a deep well from which to draw. One of the best horror movies in recent memory, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, takes place in the same setting.

But while Iran adds color to that unique vampire flick, it is a very real character in Under the Shadow. The tension is palpable from the first moment, and you can feel the stress and strain as Shideh sees her dreams vanish because of her political opposition to the revolution, as her husband is forced to leave her to go to the front, as her daughter begins to see things in the night. The scariest scenes in this movie are not supernatural; they are scenes of war engulfing a city already under the thumb of tyrants.

Under the Shadow is, in some ways, a fairly standard haunting flick. It’s the setting that elevates it and makes the film well worth watching for anyone who likes their horror with depth.

3.5 Stars

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Movie Remakes and the Horror Genre

When it comes to movie remakes, no genre is immune. When Casablanca, arguably the greatest movie ever (I prefer The Godfather) gets remade, you know that anything goes in Hollywood. But when it comes to remakes, there’s the horror genre and there’s everybody else. When it comes to our genre, nothing seems to be sacred.

Do I need to list them to prove my point? Let’s put aside remakes that make sense. By the time The Mummy came along, it had been 67 years since the original first took the silver screen. And the 1999 version was demonstrably different than the original. It was a film for a different era and a different group of people. Same thing with new takes on Dracula or the werewolf. But most remakes? Not so much.

Take Psycho. Did the world need a remake–and a shot for shot one at that–of one of the greatest horror films, nay, the greatest films, of all time? Does anyone hold out hope that the planned Susperia remake–reportedly shelved–will even approach the original? What about The Hills Have EyesLast House on the Left? Friday the 13th? Nightmare on Elm Street? Remakes, re-imaginings, reboots. They are all the rage, and most people hate them. Which brings me to Evil Dead and the reason for this post.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the Evil Dead has been remade, complete with the endorsement and participation of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. I haven’t seen it, but initial reports are not promising. But I will go see it, and that’s the rub.

Movie studios are like any business. They want to make money, and they want to stay in business. And it’s much easier to sell a known quantity than it is a new invention. The name Evil Dead is worth untold millions. If the same film had a different name, it might not even make it into the theaters. We, the buying public, fall right into their trap. We go and spend our money on movies that too often disappoint us. We willingly expose yourself to movies that sully a part of our childhood–because no matter how much you try, you can’t forget that awful Nicholas Cage version of Wicker Man, any more than you can forget that The Matrix has two sequels  So the cycle repeats itself, and worthy movies are pushed out to make room for sequels that provide a guaranteed return.

But of course, I am as much to blame as anyone. I’ll be seeing the new Evil Dead soon. Afterwards, I’ll post a review here, one that I hope involves me eating my words. But I doubt it, and I curse my own contribution to a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Interested to hear your comments and solutions, if you have them…

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Movie Review–Pontypool

Watched a neat little horror movie on Netflix recently called Pontypool. The movie tells the story of the eponymous town of Pontypool  and a bizarre virus that is spreading through the community, causing widespread chaos and rioting. But this is not your typical zombie (infected) flick. The vast majority of the story is told from a small, isolated radio station where the station’s manager, production assistant, and star D.J. are hold up, describing to the listeners what they are hearing from reporters in the field. Adding to the interesting take (spoilers ahead), the virus is transmitted by words rather than microbes, a nice twist on the notion that words can induce action in the people who hear them. Good movie. I recommend it. 

4 Stars

Bonus: The first lines may be the best part of the movie. I reproduce them here.

Grant Mazzy: Mrs. French’s cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. “Have you seen Honey?” We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That’s Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It’s a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well… it means something’s going to happen. Something big. But then, something’s always about to happen.

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