I just finished reading Shock Value, Jason Zinoman's entertaining look at “how a few eccentric outsiders gave us nightmares, conquered Hollywood and invented modern horror.”
The book celebrates a genre and group of filmmakers often ghettoized when compared to the better-known New Hollywood revolution of the 1970s, a rightly celebrated period and movement — roughly between Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980) — that was investigated in Peter Biskind's equally entertaining Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
Specifically, Shock Value pinpoints New Horror as running between Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), stopping along the way to discuss such landmark horror films as George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, John Carpenter's Halloween and Brian De Palma's Carrie, among others.
Zinoman, a critic and reporter who currently covers theater for The New York Times, investigates the often arduous process of making the aforementioned movies and deftly critiques what has made them such enduring examples of the genre. He also offers incisive commentary on the psychological reasons horror movies continue to fascinate us — improbably, the genre is now the most profitable in Hollywood. (For the record, the first horror film that scared the shit out of me was The Beast Within, a B-level piece of schlock that opens with a scene of a woman being raped by a beast; I caught it one late night on HBO as an impressionable 11-year-old.)
On cue, Guillermo del Toro, a dedicated New Horror disciple, this week looks back to one of the genre's lesser-known chillers, the 1973 television movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark — the visionary filmmaker behind such movies as The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth produces and co-writes an updated version that is likely to be much more effective than the mostly lame horror reboots that have invaded multiplexes in recent years.
COLOMBIANA — Zoe Saldana headlines this action-adventure about a “stone-cold Colombian assassin” who witnessed the murder of her parents when she was a child. Olivier Megaton directs a script co-written by the genre's long-running benefactor, Luc Besson. Also stars Michael Vartan and Cliff Curtis. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) —tts (Rated R.) Grade: D-plus
THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE — The devil in this story is Uday Hussein, the notoriously decadent and monstrous elder son of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The story’s double is Latif Yahia, a valorous Iraqi soldier whose recently published memoir about his experiences serving as Uday’s body double provides the source material for this film. Dominic Cooper plays both roles. His performance would have been a tour de force had there only been authentic characters here to play. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Marjorie Baumgarten (Rated R.) Grade: C
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK — Producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro performs the neat trick of adapting the original 1973 television horror shocker Don't Be Afraid of the Dark into a tastefully suspenseful work of kid-friendly art, directed by newcomer Troy Nixey. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: B-
THE GUARD — With a pinch of Trainspotting irreverence and a dose of Pulp Fiction social satire, debut director John Michael McDonagh cobbles together this lilting black comedy set in the Gaelic region of County Galway. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — CS (Rated R.) Grade: B
OUR IDIOT BROTHER — If Our Idiot Brother winds up endearing rather than aggravating, it’s almost exclusively thanks to Paul Rudd’s Ned and the particular kinds of lessons he has to offer. (Read full-length review here.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated R.) Grade: B-
REJOICE AND SHOUT — Veteran documentary filmmaker Don McGlynn looks at the 200-year-old history of Gospel music — from its origins in African-American Christian churches to its impact on popular music of today. Features a raft of archival footage and numerous interviews with those in the know. (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.