st. molly ringwald, jessica napier, simon bossell and kylie minogue
made in australia and released nationwide sadly enough
toto :: cinema matters
"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
After Scream, there is nowhere left to go. I can accept Wes Craven turning the horror genre inside out. He's been working within the form for twenty years, and it was time for him to investigate the conventions he knows so well. He's a master of the genre, and before his deconstructionist turn in Scream, he had made at least two of the greatest American horror films in recent memory, The Hills Have Eyes and the original Nightmare On Elm Street. He can make a film that is knowing and scary. He knows how to uproot the central structure without having the whole building collapse around him.
So what's left after the supreme self-consciousness of the Scream (no. 3 on the way) trilogy? Post post-modernism? The ironic depiction of irony? A film about the making of a film about the making of a film? Perhaps the horror genre can still function even though we know most of the moves and how the whole contraption is put together. Actually, I think the horror genre still has a lot of gas left, it's just that you can't make a straight-faced slasher film anymore. I, for one, don't mourn that fact. The slasher film was the death of the intelligent, well-made horror film that could still contain the ridiculous and plain goofy, the domain of offbeat talents like the aforementioned Craven (don't blame the sequels on him) John Carpenter (ditto) and the ever-quixotic Tobe Hooper. In the eighties when you said you were going to see a horror film what you basically meant was a no-narrative near-snuff film with an assortment of brainless teenagers being periodically disposed of by a forever-clever killer. When Scream parodies these films, it shows how essentially stupid they are, but how they also provide some cheap thrills when done right. To put it simply, they are made with something approximating love, and it's that love of the slasher that makes the opening scene of Scream as effective as anything made in the eighties. Not that this is a real challenge. The parody of these cheeseball flicks can only go so far. If you stay on this path too long, sooner or later people are going to realise you re worse than the hacks you satirise because you haven't found a way to improve on their no-brainers. At least some of those films were vaguely suspenseful and had great effects courtesy of Tom Savini. Cut has neither of these things.
There is of course somewhere to go with the horror film. Smart-ass villains with a witty way aren't the only type of fright available. Watch any horror film before, say, 1983, and you'll observe an alternate method of horror film making. If you could make your way past the dated by-the-time-I-get-down-under hype of The Blair Witch Project, you may have noticed it had some of the answers. As Salon film critic Charles Taylor put it: "the film is absolutely terrifying and no fun whatsoever". I think that was the key to its success, its remorseless sense of mission, a film with no other purpose than to irritate and frighten you. By making a straight-ahead horror film (with only a slight bit of rumination over the nature of "recorded truth") the filmmakers showed how to get on with business in the 21st century. It doesn't need to deconstruct something which is by now almost innately self-parodic. It re-imagines how to work over an audience with an atavistic glee. Away with you CGI! Let's use creepy sound effects and non-actors!
That's the gap in horror films right now, between a ruthless denial of an audience s basest need and a cheap flattery of their supposed sophistication. Cut takes the easy route, and suffers horribly for it. It's a bland, poorly made, terribly acted piece of graceless plagiarism, done with none of the wit or skill of Craven's original satiric vision (already established, it should be noted, in his pre-Scream movie New Nightmare, a film that should get royalty checks every time a film like Cut rips it off). In fact, Cut is almost the perfect genre exercise. Apart from a few unbelievably clumsy conversations randomly slotted into the film about the reality of horror films and their effect on the viewer, Cut is almost a basic bad b-movie. The dialogue is cliched (in a horribly arch smart-ass way), the delivery is criminal, the photography is flat, the action is badly handled, the thrills are non-existent and the special effects are mediocre. Without the superficial theoretical dressing, this is another Friday the 13th sequel. If you think self-knowing absolves all the sins of bad movie-making you might think I'm missing the astoundingly obvious point, but if you don't buy that angle (and I certainly don't) then Cut is pure garbage, an utterly mediocre attempt at Australian filmmaking and another reason to pray for a divine cinematic conception somewhere in the heart of Sydney. Jesus, did anyone see In A Savage Land? It's already available at my local video store.
What I want from horror films (or almost any film for that matter) is either dedication to a personal vision or a display of idiot energy that defies mindless critical pegging and ranking. I don't mind the films that spin out of control, that are wasteful, indulgent, that throw ideas at us. For all the frustration that films like Fight Club and Magnolia present on first viewing, they at least rub us the wrong way in a manner that inspires thought, argument, any kind of reaction. What I despise is enervated fare like this, a little capsule of second-hand opinion funded by some insane executive while a million people with imagination count their pennies and try to make that elusive masterpiece. That's something I can't understand about films like this. They have infinite time to work on the script and dozens of people to collaborate with. How can you end up with a film so resolutely devoid of ideas, invention, LIFE!!
So what then film-boy, maker of nothing but elegant opinion at such a tender age. What are we supposed to watch? Well, how about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? No, I'm not going for the cult special with extra doses of kitsch and epater le bourgeoisie. I saw this film a few days ago and I can't get it out of my head. Sure, it's an unformed, badly paced, at times utterly ridiculous piece of high camp with the obligatory Dennis Hopper extended fruitcake cameo. But it's alive, stupid, funny, enjoyable, awkward, perversely memorable, embarrassing, INVOLVED. Just look at the first two things on that list and then compare it to Cut. Dead and Intelligent. That's it in one. We don't need cinema as bloodless film-school efforts by tossers who have nothing to offer an audience apart from a solipsistic reflection of their own bankruptcy of ideas and name-dropping. It may be preferable to some to leave horror films out of the equation all together, to focus on films more readily recognisable as art, as culture, as a neat reflection of a desired emotional state. Fuck that to whatever god you care to name and back. I'm deadly serious in my enthusiasm for all the low-budget, cobbled together pieces of perspective and unformed ideas in the world. These other films are for the cows, heaving mammoths of dead art brought to life nightly for the amusement of people who think they re smarter than the rabble who don't get the joke, as if that could ever happen in this day and age. To hell with hypocrites who will never give themselves over to anything and end up masturbating to pictures of Scorsese without ever giving New York, New York or The Last Temptation of Christ an honest viewing. It may not seem like much of a choice between a film like Cut and a film like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but one makes me sad to be a horror movie fan while the other offers me all the silliness and irrational violence one so rarely sees on the street these days. A clear and important choice is yours.
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Read another review of Cut by Sebastian Niemand
Read Adam's analysis of Wild Things, or How I Learnt to Love the Erotic Thriller
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