Monday, September 29, 2008

(Burial) Ground Rules

A couple notes on the selection and review process, as I await the start of my little experiment.

I won't be doing standard reviews, in the sense of outlining a film's entire plot or dramatis personae. I'm not interested in ruining anything for anybody, and there are plenty of better sources on the net for movie reviews. Mostly I'm interested in a film's impact -- how did it make me feel? Was I frightened or not? Films will be "graded" on style, gore, scare factor, and overall quality.

Barring perhaps one or two notable exceptions, none of the selections will be from the so-called "torture porn" subgenre that has come to dominate mass-market horror these days. Unlike some of my fellow fright flick fans, I find nothing enjoyable in films solely comprised of clever (and sometimes not-so-clever) ways of inflicting pain and suffering on nubile (and sometimes not-so-nubile) characters who typically possess all the depth of a bottle cap. That's not to say I want to know the life history of anyone who dies onscreen. I just have to care that they are dying. If only a little bit.

It's not a question of being squeamish. I've seen most of the Saw franchise and both Hostels and though the originals each had a interesting premise, their execution (pardon the pun) lacked any real style or substance. The makers of these films were entirely content to go for the gross-out, and while amply gross, they simply were not scary. Not in any lasting way. Much of this had to do with the choice of actors and the way these films were shot. While the individual acts of violence were fairly realistic, the films themselves and the actors who inhabit them were too pretty, too contrived, and ultimately, too poorly acted to give these films anything but a cartoon fiendishness.

The same cannot be said of several independent movies that, while also nominally falling under the category of "torture porn," are clearly a different animal altogether. I'm speaking of notoriously banned films like the August Underground series by Fred Vogel and more recently, Snuff 102. I am most definitely not a fan of those films either (anyone who claims such is either lying to impress their pubescent girlfriend, or falls squarely into the category of a sociopath), but no survey of the modern horror film could take itself seriously without at least some discussion of their influence and effect.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have already seen about half of the films selected. To a certain extent, this could serve to deaden their impact, but it should also allow me to be a bit more objective in assessing their overall quality (it's hard to see much with your hands in front of your eyes). Simply put, good films hold up under repeat viewings. Bad films do not.

So how did I go about selecting the ones I haven't seen?

Basically, I trawled and cross-referenced relevant forums and review sites. I'll admit a strong bias toward foreign and independent films and away from American remakes and mindless slasher flicks, so if you're the type who hates subtitles or loved the most recent regurgitation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you will probably have more fun over at or

One or two of the films selected are not yet available to the American public (not at the time of this writing anyway). If you promise not to ask me how I acquired them, I promise not to tell you ;-) Whatever sins I committed against the creators of these films by short-cutting the standard distribution channels I hope to more than make up by spreading the good word about their shocking greatness. Assuming they're any good, that is...

On that subject, if anyone out there has access to a copy of Paranormal Activity, I would dearly love to hear from you before Hollywood manages to ruin what purports to be a really scary movie.

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