Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Allan Mott ""

Friday, October 25, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Allan Mott

Allan Mott is @HouseofGlib on Twitter and the proprietor of the website VanityFear.com, where he uses the subject of B-movies to mostly talk about boobs and stuff. He currently writes the “Pretty in the Past” column for xoJaneUK, has contributed reviews to Canuxploitation, Bookgasm and Flick Attack, and is the author of a dozen books, including 2004’s Scary Movies.
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Together, the combined average IMDb rating of these five films is 5.1, which means there are a lot of people out there who don’t appreciate their specific charms.

This is why I think they’re wrong.

TEETH (Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007)

Current IMDb Rating: 5.6/10

TEETH exists in the same universe as the justly-beloved Canadian werewolf movie, GINGER SNAPS. It is a darkly comic horror movie that uses the very-real terrors of high school and female adolescence as a central metaphor upon which to deliver something greater than just a few cheap shocks. But unlike GINGER SNAPS, TEETH is bold enough to make its protagonist both the hero and the monster—giving us in Jess Wexler’s Dawn, a character who serves as a Final Girl in a society where patriarchal oppression is much more abhorrent and dangerous than her own unique deformity.

It seems inevitable that someone would eventually turn the idea of vagina dentata into a horror film, but it is to writer/director Lichtenstein’s credit that he uses the motif to create a work of feminist triumph rather than a drearily misogynistic evocation of the exact fears responsible for the creation of the symbol of fanged genitalia in the first place.

The film succeeds because it maintains the same tone as John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON—it is frequently funny, but never at the expense of our sympathy for Dawn, who begins the film as a potentially alienating stereotype (think Mandy Moore in SAVED or worse, A WALK TO REMEMBER) and is transformed in front of our eyes from a frightened young woman into a bold, beautiful figure of righteous female vengeance.

It is this transformation that allows TEETH to transcend the realm of mere castration anxiety and become something truly special. It is all worth it for the moment at the end where she looks into the camera, confident and unafraid—finally aware that she has the power to control the world she lives in.

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (Deborah Brock, 1987)

Current IMDb Rating: 3.5/10

This second film in the Roger Corman produced trio of slashers written and directed by women is one of those films that you either love or hate—there is no middle ground. Its critics lament its bad acting, nonsensical plot and a bizarre tone that actually allows its Elvis Presley/Rockabilly maniac his own musical number—judging it not for what it is, but what it most definitely isn’t.

But those of us who love it understand that its flaws and strange ambitions combine to make something wholly unique—an 80s slasher movie that truly is like no other film in that crowded genre.

Influenced by the surrealist masters, writer/director Brock frames the film as the nightmare of a young woman driven insane by the terrible events of the first film. By doing so she created the first slasher film with an entirely female POV, but in a way that embraces rather than rejects the genres most infamous clichés.

Viewed as a straight-ahead horror film, it’s a disaster, but once you accept that its multiple ineptitudes can be explained by the fact that what we are watching is the demented fantasy of a child of the era familiar with all the genre’s tropes, it becomes fun and fascinating.

Also, did I already mention that the killer HAS A MUSICAL NUMBER before killing everyone with a GUITAR SHAPED DRILL?!?!?!? How is that not the very definition of awesome?




HOSTEL: PART II (Eli Roth, 2007)

Current IMDb Rating: 5.4/10

Back when the first HOSTEL came out, critics and audiences seemed to be evenly divided between those who enjoyed it and those who were eager to dismiss it as “Torture Porn”—an irritatingly obnoxious phrase most often used to stifle rather than invigorate debate. Roth’s sequel proved to be much less divisive. Many who liked the first film dismissed the second as a gender-reversed rehash of the original, while those who hated it saw no reason to reverse their position.

What I feel this response failed to take into account is that by reversing the genders—and also allowing us a glimpse into the lives of the secret organization’s sadistic clients—the result was a much more thematically interesting film.

With this sequel Roth is working in the same realm as Jonathan Swift’s groundbreaking “A Modest Proposal”—the essay that satirized his era’s treatment of the poor and the evil indifference of the rich by calmly suggesting the wealthy eat poor Irish babies as a way to solve society’s major problems. Roth posits a world where the wealthy elite have become so bored with their success that the only way they can feel something is by torturing other human beings and suggests that even those of us who know we are above such depravity might find it hard to resist once actually given the opportunity to act upon our inner rage with total abandon.

The film climaxes with a scene where the film’s Final Girl successfully (and literally) emasculates her wannabe-torturer, but the moment is made much more pointed than a traditional victory of good versus evil, because the reason she’s allowed to succeed isn’t because she’s smarter, stronger and better than he is (even though she is all three of those things), but because she has a much larger bank account. She buys her survival, rather than earns it.

It is this twist that makes the film both darker and more interesting than its current reputation would suggest. The real horror of the film isn’t in the torture itself, but the society that would allow such a transaction to take place.

JUST BEFORE DAWN (Jeff Lieberman, 1981)

Current IMDb Rating: 6.1/10

Really any film by Jeff Lieberman could be put in a list such as this, since he is a talented and interesting filmmaker whose work has never really gotten the attention it deserves (I would personally nominate SQUIRM as the best film to ever be mocked by the team at MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000), but as far as I’m concerned JUST BEFORE DAWN is his masterpiece—a film I find more extraordinary every time I see it.

In terms of plot JBD sounds like a standard slasher—a group of 20-somethings go camping in the deep woods in search of an inherited mine, only to run into some backwoods maniacs who don’t take kindly to their intrusion—but what separates it from the pack is the skill of Lieberman’s execution. From a distance it may seem as though he is merely combining FRIDAY THE 13TH with DELIVERANCE, but up close he delivers something greater than mere low-budget pastiche.

This is seen most clearly in his portrayal of the doomed campers, who he takes pains to make likeable and sympathetic, rather than the standard collection of detestable slasher assholes. In so doing, he creates a tension all but a select few slashers lack—we care about these people and each death takes its toll on us.

Add to that a sparse soundtrack that avoids cheap musical stings in favour of the often eerie sounds of nature and the single best final girl victory moment in the genre’s history and you have a film more people should see and appreciate.

THE INITIATION (Larry Stewart, 1984)

Current IMDb Rating: 5.4/10

In terms of plot, THE INITIATION is pretty much a carbon copy of 1981’s Canuxploitation classic HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. Both concern attractive young coeds who can’t access their memories of past traumas and who watch helplessly as their snobby social circle is whittled down by someone who bears a distinct resemblance to the person they see in the mirror everyday.

But what Stewart’s film lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution and a talented cast that includes a pre-SPACEBALLS Daphne Zuniga (who’s given an “Introducing” credit because the filmmakers justifiably figured her performance as a human speed bump in 1982’s PRANKS didn’t count) as the young woman with the troubled past she can’t remember.

Truthfully, though, I’m including THE INITIATION in this list for two specific scenes—both of which take pains to give dimension to characters most other horror films would be happy to dismiss as disposable stereotypes. In the first, the film’s prudish character explains to everyone why she doesn’t share their casual attitude about sex—she was molested by her piano teacher—and in the second, she and the film’s prankster share a post-coital moment of intimacy during which he describes why he is constantly compelled to make jokes and play tricks on people.

Because we know the rules of the genre, we watch these scenes understanding that these two characters are doomed and will not survive the night, which adds a poignancy these scenes would not have in any other kind of production—including a straight drama. It’s a rare moment where cliché combined with ambition creates something that couldn’t exist anywhere else and together they help elevate the film to a level beyond mere slasher movie rip-off.

2 comments:

SteveQ said...

I've been comparing IMDB ratings with my own on horror movies and I find that the newer the film, the higher the IMDB rating and gore fans must vote heavily on their favorites.

You've found more to like in these films than I did! "Teeth" is bound to be a cult favorite eventually.

Eli Owen said...

"patriarchal oppression is much more abhorrent and dangerous than her own unique deformity."

So fictional in that case.