Monday, October 23, 2006

It's Snow Tire Day!
Plus: TCSM, Grudge Prequels and Sequels, more...

Ah, that annual fall ritual of snow tires. I found I still had two good ones in the garage -- remnants, I believe, of my son Dan's car, passed down from father to son lo a number of years ago, and abandoned by yon son about a year ago for a life of downtown living, free of vehicular costs and obligations -- so it's off to the Tire Warehouse for a new set of skins on the front and this pair of one-more-season treads to be placed on the rear.

It snowed in Burlington on Friday, and the weatherman claims we higher elevations may see the same by tomorrow. So, no monkeying around -- snows go on today, come hell or, uh, whatever.
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It doesn't appear my Lovecraft event posts are yet published, so no point elaborating further this morning. Had a glorious day yesterday with Joe Citro, my son Dan, and Mike Dobbs; we enjoyed Christopher Nolan's The Prestige at a full-house matinee in Hadley, MA, followed by BBQ dining in style at Bub's. I felt blessed: two of my best friends on Earth, my son, good food, good movie, great company.
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Earlier last week, I caught Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and The Grudge 2 as a self-made double bill at the local Kipling Cinema (hello to Don and Ben), and meant to post some comments here, but time and the blog troubles postponed that effort. Sigh.

In short, TCSM: The Beginning was, primarily (I think) thanks to co-scripter David Schow (though I shouldn't short-shrift credited scribe Sheldon Turner or director Jonathan Liebesman), a surprisingly effective return to roots for the franchise, with none of the flaws of the remake and a determination to honor the Tobe Hooper/Kim Henkel original as best as possible given the new backstory imposed upon the material by the Michael Bay-produced remake of two seasons ago. The newly-concocted Korean War context for the clan's cannibalistic appetites was deftly imposed on the non-cannibal remake's scenario, which coupled with the re-embrace of the original's slaughterhouse unemployment backstory (sadly sans Grandpa) and overall black comedy extremes (including impromptu leg surgery on an injured family member -- or dismember) neatly re-tapped the 1974 vein. The '70s setting also enhanced the tension here among the young interlopers, with its overt Vietnam War context, given the teen characters a far more sympathetic (and timely) portrayal than usual in the genre. In short, I cared what happened to these two couples, despite the well-founded suspicion the absolute worst was going to happen to them all (it does). I found myself caught up in the first genuine suspense the TCSM series has offered since the last sequel Schow had a hand in (Leatherface, the New Line sequel with the inspired 'speak'n'spell' sequence).

This most American of the season's horror films brings the pot to full boil and succeeds in letting it boil over with scalding intensity by its final act, which neatly concludes with a precise close of the circle: the narration of the Henkel/Hooper original. Neat, and in and of itself more satisfying than this prequel had any right to be.

Sans any pretensions and a complete determination to stick to the mythos and ethos of the original 1974 film's nightmarish modus operandi despite the big-bucks studio umbrella, TCSM: The Beginning works jes' fine for those inclined to revisit the uniquely Texan circle of hell at ground zero of this unlikeliest of corporate media franchises.

The Grudge 2, though, was a splintered and frayed extension of an already-pretty-thin Japanese series and its 2004 US remake, more compelling as an artifact/mirror of the current international malaise than as an exercise in horror.

Bad things not only happen to complete innocents in this one, the viral haunting goes global as the oragami-fold narrative discloses a US apartment complex infected by a lone teenager home from her terminated schooling in Japan, undone by a 'hazing' encounter with the original malign abode. This places a wide-eyed shivering young lad at the epicenter of the atrocities, including the nasty implosion of his family (including new stepmom Jennifer Beals, who opens the film with a risible bit of domestic revenge involving hot bacon fat and a frying pan), though his plight isn't particularly affecting, undermined in part by the film's calculated fragmentation of the chronology of its events.

A Nicolas Roeg might have been able to pull off this conceit at his 1970s peak, but Grudge 2 just lumbers along, victimizing an increasing radius of non-transgressors and folks who've done nothing to incur the wrath of the wraiths save exist in proximity with the wrong person. It's interesting in hindsight to interpret what the insatiable spectral carnivores are ultimately engaged in as an inverse Rapture: the innocent indeed vanish, but not to a greater glory.

Call it karma, which it most certainly is -- The Grudge 2 offers another genre mirror of the unintended consequences of our Iraq War foreign policies. The ravenous spirits are now imposing, tit-for-tat, their own preemptive strikes against the living; thus, the US-produced Grudge 2 is a surprising companion piece to the original Kiyoshi Kurosawa feature Kairo/Pulse (2001), the most insidiously prescient and apocalyptic of all 9/11 horror films to date. Grudge 2 relentlessly portrays a world so tainted and askew that one now need do nothing to incur the wrath of the all-devouring ghosts. Welcome to the post-9/11 reality rendered metaphysically: as I said, a bone-chilling cultural artifact, but not a particularly effective horror movie in and of itself. As the horrors unreeled, I felt so disconnected from them (symptomatic of much of the Ghost House productions, I've found) I ceased to feel much of anything, save numb and rather bored. This emotional disconnect surely isn't the intention of the filmmakers, though it made contextualizing Grudge 2 as a movie more compelling than experiencing the movie.

Its wider canvas and international context (still under the directorial guidance of the original Ju-On/Grudge Japanese director Takashi Shimizu) is what makes Grudge 2, despite its failure as a horror movie, compelling to me: this is what America has become to foreign eyes, a land where the next generation is already paying for transgressions on foreign shores, suffering for the actions of others, for crimes the children have no part in, knowledge of or culpability for. They will suffer, and they will pay the ultimate price, without ever knowing what for, or why, or by whom or what.

Needless to say, there's also a political dimension to TCSM: The Beginning, given the context of our own times, though that's in part due to the fact the Vietnam War era it is set within is so uncannily attuned to our 2006 present reality. Like the current horror movie torture cycle I've already discussed at length on this blog, TCSM:TB (the most disease-like of the title abbreviations) thrusts its young protagonists in the "strap 'em to a chair" reality of our War on Terror/Pro-Torture President times, but unlike the xenophobic Hostel, it's a die-hard true-blue Texan (who has failed to sustain anything but an appetite for human flesh and inflicting agony from his Korean War experience) who's clearly in charge. No surprise the scariest (fake -- like Bush, he "seizes the election," so to speak, after a pointed bit of character assassination) law enforcement officer since Frailty (2001, the most honest and prescient of all American horror films of its year, directed by Texan Bill Paxton) is likewise a Texan, played to the hilt by R. Lee Ermey. There's no doubt who is holding the smoking rifle or guiding the chainsaw in this pic, and how deranged this patriarch really is; it's worth noting again, natch, Bush isn't a true Texan, born as he is in Connecticut and all, but he presents himself as a Texan, and the Ermey character of "Sheriff Hoyt" is clearly a reflection of that media projection writ large and free of all political constraints: he literally feeds on our young, with lip-smacking tobacco-spitting glee.

The spectacle is horrifying, the abuse of power absolute; that it all happens on American soil rings truer than ever before. Reduced to this brutally efficient (metaphoric) arena and stripped of all political niceties, the unslakeable craving for power over life and death and desire to inflict pain to assert and overtly feed that power (the prequel's readoption of the cannibalism motif is apt) is indeed a terrifying caricature of our own present 21st Century leaders -- rendered all the more terrifying by the most recent actions of President Bush, Cheney, et al, coldly disposing of habeas corpus as the law of the land after arrogantly asserting their right -- need -- to torture as a national imperative. All that happened this fall long after TCSM: TB was long in the can and out of post-production, but it's added a whole new dimension to the film's grand guignol mirror of our times. Like Sheriff Hoyt's clan, Bush and his cronies can now take whomever they wish, do to them whatever they choose, and dispose of the evidence/remains without qualm. Remember the fucking Alamo, indeed.

Once again, the horror flicks are the bluntest aspect of the pop culture -- which has, after all, thoroughly infected & undermined what passes for news & journalism in 2006 -- dealing with the grim new Iraq War reality of the current generation. The teens most affected by this new reality are getting their 'truth' from The Daily Show and horror movies, and both aren't pulling any punches.

"It Never Forgives. It Never Forgets" -- the tagline of the first US Grudge remake's advertising -- has perverse new resonance. It -- the World -- doesn't, nor will it.

Meditate on that, won't you?
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More blogging woes; it seems interminable, and I've no idea what is going on.

I write daily to blog support, sans reply or any apparent action -- seems every three days, the malingering posts in the lineup on the editing board (they're all there) magically appear at last on the blog, with no resolution to the daily inability to publish my posts. I'll slog through a few more days of this, but it's become an increasingly fruitless endeavor.

1 Comments:

Blogger HemlockMan said...

Sorry about your blog woes. It is frustrating to go looking for your commentary and find a blank page.

No snow tires here at the NC/SC border. Last year, we didn't even have a winter. A far cry from the days when I was a kid and we'd get a decent amount of snow in this part of the country. No more.

10/26/2006  

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