Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Rundown of the 13 (+1) Best Horror Movies I've Seen in the Past Year
[11 of 13]

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the tie in this year's rundown is held by two television shows, but the fact is, there's a lot of really excellent TV going on, and some of it happens to fall into the genre that we celebrate at the Iguana every Halloween, so, just think of these as extra-long movies if you must, so long as you give them a look.
And so, without further ado...

(November 2012)

I mentioned Robin Campillo’s Les Revenants (They Came Back) ‘round these parts before in passing.
Allow me now to expound on that film further…

Unleashed in 2004--about a year and a half after Danny Boyle and Alex Garland gave us 28 Days Later, and just two months after A) Zack Snyder managed to get the brilliant Sarah Polley in a zombie movie and inadvertently ignited the slow vs. fast zombie debate with his impressive debut, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and B) Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost kicked off their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy with Shaun of the Dead--Campillo’s Les Revenants emerged in the very early days of what would eventually develop into an unlikely revival of zombie cinema.

Even back then, Les Revenants felt, at least to me, like a breath of fresh air, a radically different approach to the idea of the dead returning to walk the earth.
Here, in a narrative co-written by Campillo with Brigitte Tijou, there were no rotting, shambling corpses intent on ripping into warm human flesh. Instead, there were the recently deceased (within the past decade), who suddenly appear, whole and seemingly unharmed, wanting only to return to the lives they’d been rudely evicted from by their deaths.
Here, Campillo focused on the living as well, those left behind, who now have to suddenly adjust to the reality that what they might have prayed for--the return of their departed loved ones--had, quite unbelievably, come to pass.

Flash forward to November of last year, and in the eight and a half years since Les Revenants, zombies had moved into the mainstream and become the monster du jour of horror, with an American zombie cable television show perennially breaking ratings records with seeming impunity.
Zombie, you’ve come a long way, baby…
It’s into this strange new world that Canal+’s television adaptation of Les Revenants emerges, and once again, we’re given an atypical depiction of the zombie phenomenon, one needed now more than ever, with so many bland and derivative entries in zombie cinema littering the sidewalks and the cineplexes.

Expanded into an eight-episode first season (with a second season that’s expected to debut early next year), the TV version of Les Revenants employs the same subtle creep and dread of Campillo’s original, eschewing a portion of the art house ambiguity of the film for some more traditional drama of the serialized sort, as well as some more overtly supernatural goings-on (though the exact nature of those aren’t really explained either).
And though the TV show’s narrative does not really follow the film’s (save for the central conceit of the dead returning and how that event impacts on the living), there is one major cast member carry-over: Frédéric Pierrot, playing different characters in either iteration, of course.   

The last time I put a TV series into the ¡Q horror! milieu was Dead Set. But just as that show rightly deserved its ¡Q horror! spot, so does this one. (Just imagine you’re watching an 8-hour long movie, with a sequel waiting in the wings…)

Plus, Mogwai scored the damned thing, so hey, one more reason to check it out!

Parting Shot 1: It should be noted that AbbottVision and FremantleMedia Enterprises have purchased the English-language remake rights, and intend to produce a show under the title, They Came Back, so I’d advise you to hunt down the French original before then.
This show should not be confused with ABC’s mid-season title, Resurrection, which is based on the novel, The Returned, by Jason Mott. (Though honestly, Mott’s novel, to be released in August, has a central conceit that’s pretty much the one in Campillo’s original. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “A family gets caught up in a worldwide event in which loved ones return from the dead exactly as they last were in life.” Hurm.)

Parting Shot 2: Also, if the atypical zombie’s your thing, then you should check out the 3 episode BBC show In The Flesh, which might have gotten this ¡Q horror! slot, but it’s particularly less “horror” than Les Revenants, so…
Still, it’s worth your while, if you want more from your zombies than AMC’s The Walking Dead can give you…

(Les Revenants OS' courtesy of impawards.com; They Came Back DVD cover art courtesy of amazon.com; Les Revenants OST sleeve art courtesy of amazon.co.uk.)

(April 2013)

For the record, I love Bryan Fuller’s TV work (though the Mockingbird Lane pilot did leave me wanting), and the show of his I really, truly, and completely loved was Wonderfalls.
So the fact that Caroline Dhavernas is part of the cast of Fuller’s adaptation of Hannibal is all sorts of awesome.

Of course, that’s not the reason why Hannibal has tied with Les Revenants for a ¡Q horror! slot this year; Dhavernas is many things, but a “horror” she most certainly is not.
Hannibal is here because this is a solid adaptation of Thomas Harris’ serial killer novels featuring Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.
Ostensibly, Red Dragon is the main source material for the show, a novel which has already been adapted to film twice, in 1986 by Michael Mann under the title Manhunter, and in 2002, by Brett Ratner.
According to Fuller’s roadmap of the show though, Hannibal Season 4 would be the adaptation proper of Red Dragon, while, if the stars align, we may actually see a television adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs,* envisioned as Season 5 of the show, should we get that far.
And if the level of creative quality remains constant (or hopefully, actually increases), then that’s a future I’d very much like to see. 

In Season 1 alone, we’ve got some heavy directorial hitters like David Slade (whose excellent Awake Pilot was one of last season’s TV highlights), Michael Rymer (who solidified his geek cred with his work on Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica), and 75-year-old Peter Medak (who scarred many an audience member with the chilling quiet horror of 1980’s The Changeling).
Then there’s Guillermo Navarro, frequent cinematographer for Guillermo del Toro (including the 2 hours and 11 minutes of awesome kaiju madness that is Pacific Rim), who won a whole slew of awards--including the Oscar--for his work on El Laberinto del Fauno. Navarro had previously worked with Fuller as DP on the Mockingbird Lane pilot, and here, he directs a trio of episodes (as do both Slade and Rymer, taking a lion’s share of the season between the three of them).
Some Twin Peaks episode helmers are also in here: James Foley (who also brought us the big screen adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross) and Tim Hunter (no, not the Books of Magic kid).

All that livewire creativity and talent behind the camera, and we haven’t even gotten to the excellent cast.
The cold, clinical detachment Mads Mikkelsen brings to his Hannibal is a fine offset to the twitchy, tortured nature of Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham. And, you know, Mikkelsen had to walk in the intimidating footsteps of both Brian Cox and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Plus, there are those guest star turns:
Gillian Anderson, who enters at the midpoint of the season, under the beautifully unlikely name of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier;
Fellow Chris Carter alumnus, Lance Henriksen;
And other past Fuller collaborators: Raúl Esparza, Eddie Izzard, Ellen Greene, and Ellen Muth (but that was a pretty evil way to wrap up her guest starring stint, Mr. Fuller, an evil way…).
So with both Dhavernas and Muth having made their appearances, all we need are either Lee Pace or Anna Friel (or both) to enter Hannibal’s world, and we’ll complete the Past Fuller Leads Trifecta.

In a world where TV procedurals have reached well beyond saturation point, one of the things that saves Hannibal from the potential pitfall of becoming just another one of those “serial killer of the week” shows is the serialized nature of its narrative.
Coming into the show with a general idea of the overarching narrative (from the Harris novels and the previous film adaptations of the material), the audience is hooked. They want to see how the cards fall, they can’t wait for the other shoe to drop, for Graham and company to discover exactly what kind of a monster Lecter really is.
It’s the same approach to story that was successfully utilized in Smallville (at least, for the first few seasons), and more recently, in Bates Motel.
We all know Clark Kent eventually becomes Superman, we all know Norman Bates eventually kills his mother and a whole string of unfortunate motel guests, we all know Hannibal Lecter eventually ends up in the loonybin where he gets to play cat and mouse with Clarice Starling.
Part of the fun lies in watching how we get there.

And thus far, this is some morbid, gruesome “fun.” (Network television is getting away with a lot these days…)
If I could ask for something though, I’d ask for a bit more psychopathology; the show doesn’t really bother to explain the whys of their killers. We meet them fully (mal)formed, without any significant idea of how these sick puppies got so ill, without knowing the twisted road they walked to get here.
It’s almost as if Fuller and company are saying, serial killers really are inexplicable.
It’s almost like they’re saying, there is no “Why.” Serial killers simply are.
And that’s a truly horrifying thought…

* A possibility that both intrigues me (because there were some bits of the novel that were dropped in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation; among them, Jack Crawford’s turmoil, the seeds of which, have already been planted by Fuller and company in Season 1) and terrifies me (because The Silence of the Lambs is one of those brilliant lightning in a bottle moments in cinema, where everything seemed to align exquisitely).
Again, for the record, Demme’s Silence is, thus far, the only Harris film adaptation that I’ve been completely floored by. All the others--from Mann’s Manhunter, through until Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising--haven’t come even close.
Here’s hoping Fuller’s Hannibal can ultimately succeed where all those others failed…

(Hannibal OS’ courtesy of impawards.com.)

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