Monday, April 28, 2014

Highschool of the Dead (2010)

Highschool of the Dead has the distinction of being a Japanese anime series on the subject of zombies. While this may be a plus for zombie-obsessed Western audiences, as an anime fan AND a horror fan, I have to say that it is a very mediocre entry into the worldwide collection of zombie stories that are out there.

To be honest, I thought the idea of a zombie outbreak occurring in a high school, with a focus on several high school students (and maybe their teachers) - which is a popular theme in Japanese anime but not many Western zombie stories - was intriguing and original. But the setting of the story does not remain in the high school for the entirety of the series, and it quickly becomes an average attempt to tell the same kind of formulaic zombie story that any zombie fan has seen a hundred times before - with boring, cliched characters that an anime fan has seen a thousand times before.

If that were all, it would simply be a mediocre series. But I have a problem with the excessive fan service on display. Don't get me wrong, it's not the fact that there is fan service in this series, or even that there's a lot of it, that bothers me. I enjoy scantily clad female characters, and I don't believe that nudity or even sex scenes ever need to be "justified" in any type of media, as they serve as their own justification. But the fan service in this series is ridiculous.

The point of view frequently goes so far out of its way to exhibit this or that character's striped panties or perpetually jiggling boobies (along with the typical, annoying "boin boin" sound effect - I have never once heard a breast make this noise in real life) as to take me out of the show. And the juxtaposition of the psychological trauma of mutilating the reanimated, flesh-eating corpses of the dead, with the copious sexual objectification of the show's female characters is confusing and a little bit concerning. I honestly can't decide if the creator was more dedicated to writing a show about zombies or a show about women's underwear and big boobs; sticking them together is an odd choice.

I wouldn't have a problem with a zombie show where all the (living) characters were naked for no reason at all (why is it only ever just the women?). And I wouldn't have a problem with a zombie show where the (living) characters had sex at every opportunity (who wouldn't, in that situation?). Hell, I wouldn't even have a problem with a zombie series that shatters the taboo surrounding necrophilia, as long as it was done effectively. But the fan service in Highschool of the Dead (which, in typical teaser fashion, never actually shows you anything of significance) is ridiculous and draws too much attention to itself. And the zombie story hiding behind it, while not being complete garbage, isn't really good enough (and doesn't have the chance to develop far enough) to really be worth watching.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dead Snow (2009)

Finally made the time to sit down and watch Dead Snow, a Norwegian film about Nazi zombies, tonight. I've seen a lot of movies in my day, so I wouldn't put it past someone to make a serious movie about Nazi zombies, but obviously the first thing you think when the plot synopsis mentions "Nazi zombies", is, "are you serious?" But actually, the movie does start out pretty seriously, setting the stage for what looks to be a fairly standard horror flick in the teen slasher vein (albeit from a Norwegian perspective).

But the movie's self-awareness quickly becomes evident in the form of a character who is a movie buff, with some early explicit references to horror classics like Friday the 13th and Evil Dead, and who wears a Braindead (a.k.a. Peter Jackson's Dead Alive) t-shirt, all of which this movie makes copious homages too, and which informs the tongue-in-cheek brand of black humor that infests the latter half of the movie - for better or worse (probably better, since I think this movie would ultimately have been less successful as a serious movie than simply as a fun one).

Before things get too silly, the Harbinger - as The Cabin in the Woods would undoubtedly label him - appears unexpectedly at the cabin in the woods (actually a snowy mountainscape), and gives one of the better performances of his ilk (among the myriad slasher films in existence), with a history lesson that plays out more like an around-the-campfire ghost story and that sets the scene for the coming appearance of the frozen reanimated Nazi corpses. After they show up, the film ramps up the scares and the gore, but also the straight-faced and situational humor. Meanwhile, the blood keeps getting poured on in good Braindead fashion, and many of the characters face humorously ironic ordeals and demises, that might elicit a chuckle but will definitely induce a grimace (or four).

It's hard to say how I actually feel about this film, given my preference for the serious over the humorous (despite my tempered appreciation for the Braindead-style over-the-top approach). And let's be honest, this film had what was probably the least erotic sex scene in a slasher film I've probably seen in...ever. The humorous appropriation of Nazi imagery doesn't offend me in the least, but it doesn't particularly get me excited, either. The locations, however, were suitably isolated and really very beautiful, offering something unique in place of the typical wooded lake kind of setting, even if it meant less scantily clad coeds. But, purely as a zombie film, Dead Snow is a bit too frantic, and lacks the shambling feel of a classic zombie movie. It's really more of a monster-in-the-woods slasher kind of flick, especially of the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware variety. Whether that's a plus or a minus is up to you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Last year I watched Insidious, which proved to live up to the hype of being one of the better and more original horror films released in recent years. And a few days ago, I noticed that the sequel - Insidious: Chapter 2 - was available on Netflix, so I made a point to watch it.

I'd say that the quality of the movie is comparable to the first. It is not completely free of cliches or jump scares, but, like the first, its usage of astral projection to explain ghosts, hauntings, and possession keeps it fresh amongst a never-ending onslaught of movies on those themes.

Being a sequel, the concept is not as new as it was the first time, but it's not as if its use was exhausted in a single movie. Plus, the sequel utilizes a clever temporal anomaly to keep things interesting, and though you feel that you can predict exactly where the plot is heading through the first half of the movie, there are some welcome twists to keep the viewer guessing.

The astral scenes are also comparable to those in the first movie, creating a fairly creepy atmosphere, with a few pretty terrifying images. The whole setpiece in the one rundown house was very scary. It might be worthwhile to mention that there are some scenes when the cast is exploring some old buildings that are shot partially in a "found footage" perspective.

Spoilers Below!

If I have any complaint about the movie - and it's a minor one - it would be the usage of a certain plot device that's become somewhat of a cliche, where a character's sociopathic tendencies are explained by childhood trauma in the form of a parent forcing them to be the wrong sex.

Not to say that it's necessarily unrealistic or implausible, but as much as I like to see transgender issues come up in movies (and let's be honest, this little boy looked pretty cute as a girl), when they come up more often in this context than in more positive ones, it has a tendency to reinforce the still-too-common belief that a child who really is transgender is being forced to be that way by parents, and that it is an abusive and traumatic experience.

Spoilers Above!

But that's more of a political complaint; it didn't really hamper my enjoyment of the movie too much. I'd like also to mention that the people in charge of casting did an excellent job casting the young version of Lin Shaye's character. I actually spent some time wondering if they just had a phenomenal makeup department, making the veteran actress look twenty-something again - but, to that effect, they also did a great job aging (or rather decaying) Patrick Wilson, as required per the movie.

Long story short, Insidious: Chapter 2 is pretty much more of the same, so if you liked the first one, you should definitely give this one a watch. It wraps up the story of the Lambert family, while keeping the door open for a Chapter 3 - and honestly, I'd be interested to see another installment of Insidious, particularly given the direction hinted by Chapter 2's ending.