Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
Back at the tiny used bookstore, pressed for time and crowded by not one, but several other customers (literally a crowd in this particular bookstore), I grabbed an offering from the horror section, a 2001 Spanish novel called  The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  It stood out from all the Kings and Koontzs with an intriguing cover illustration of a foggy street and jacket blurbs with high praise.  I thought I'd stumbled on something interesting.

It wasn't really horror.  There were some Gothic trappings (abandoned mansions, crypts, family secrets, lots of fog), and an attempt at magical realism (which I don't much care for even when it is well done).  Although generally well reviewed, Zafón's first novel is disappointing, 506 pages that strive hard for style and lay on the literary allusions, but end up feeling shallow and highly repetitive.  It starts out when the protagonist Daniel is ten years old (although you couldn't tell this by the way Zafón has him speak), taken by his father to a mysterious book collection to select a rare book of his very own.  He chooses a title by Julian Carax, and very, very slowly begins to find out more about the failed author and to be drawn in to mystery and danger.  Occasionally, Zafón delivers a felicitous or humorous phrase, but overall the characters are thin, I didn't feel for them, and Daniel's excruciatingly slow quest to unravel the mystery of Carax's life made me want to flip to the end after roughly 150 pages.

So much for my hopes of stumbling on something interesting.  It was a little like finding an intriguing shell on the beach and having it break into little pieces when you pick it up, or maybe like opening a nicely wrapped present to find a pair of bargain store socks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review of "Dead Snow" on Associated Content

I published a slightly expanded review of Dead Snow on AC.  Apparently the film's director, Tommy Wirkola, is now directing something called Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which, if it ever actually comes to fruition, will likely be pretty bad. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Drag Me to Hell
In Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi returns to his roots (along with brother Ivan, who co-wrote it along with Army of Darkness (1992)). The Raimis completed the script soon after Army of Darkness, but were sidetracked by other projects. I’m glad they finally got around to it.

Christine (Alison Lohman) has a mundane existence as a loan officer until she causes an old Gypsy, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) to be evicted. Mrs. Ganush, perhaps overreacting slightly, puts the curse of the Lamia, the “black goat” on Christine, vowing that she will be sent to Hell in three days.

Disbelieving at first, Christine is forced to acknowledge the seriousness of her situation as the Lamia begins to torment her, the demon’s manifestations increasing as the deadline approaches. Can Christine negate the curse with the aid of the mystic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) and her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long)? Or will the Lamia succeed in dragging her to Hell?

In Drag Me to Hell, Raimi has returned to his element. Shades of the Evil Dead movies are everywhere. The fear of old people is once again used to good effect (the vengeful Mrs. Ganush echoes the farmer’s wife in the basement from Evil Dead). There is a sly mention of a cabin in the woods, and Raimi’s yellow 1973 Oldsmobile even makes an appearance as it has in many of his films. His inventive camera work has not flagged, nor has his penchant for grue. Watching Mrs. Ganush try to gum Christine to death when she loses her false teeth is particularly disturbing.

What has improved from the Evil Dead movies is the characterization and acting (no offense to Bruce Campbell). Christine is a more fleshed out character than many a horror movie damsel in distress, trying to escape from her accent and roots as a farm girl and former pork queen as well as from the curse. Raimi skillfully adds her anxiety to impress her boyfriend’s parents and get a promotion to the rest of the dread, and Alison Lohman does an excellent job in the part. Justin Long gives a very natural performance as Christine’s sweet, geeky boyfriend, and Lorna Raver, veteran of wide range of TV shows, seems to delight in the leering and snapping that the role of Mrs. Ganush demands.

Drag Me to Hell is much better than any recent horror movie I’ve seen- the Raimi humor is still strong, the story and script are good, sets, lighting, and special effects are all masterfully done, there are Gypsy curses, flies, gore, foreclosures, obnoxious bosses, scheming coworkers, and other demons. The only (slight) flaw is an over-reliance on Mrs. Ganush jumping out at Christine throughout the film. I kept wondering “Where will she pop out next?” and “Can I make a drinking game out of this?” Still, it’s highly enjoyable, especially when Raimi lets out all the stops for an over-the-top séance. He hasn’t lost his talent for making you laugh at the same time you’re getting the bejesus scared out of you.