Friday, February 19, 2016

Southbound and the renaissance of anthology horror

I'm not sure why I ever turned against anthology horror. Somewhere around the time of Creepshow and Cat's Eye, I began to think of it as an inferior form, where the stories tended to be under-developed sketches, little cinema snacks that, eaten in sequence, usually failed to produce the experience of having taken in a full meal. In fact, Creepshow and Cat's Eye, both of which I've revisited in the last few years, are pretty enjoyable movies; and there are also some true classics of the form, like the Amicus releases Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, both of which I highly recommend, or the very fun John Carpenter/ Tobe Hooper film Body Bags. Catching up with films like these, thanks to their excellent Scream Factory Blu-Ray releases, has definitely gone a long way to reversing my bad attitude to anthology horror.

Nothing that I've seen come close to V/H/S 1 and 2, however, in getting my excitement up about omnibus films. Of course, it helps that I actually still like found footage films; I think in an age where everyone can make movies on their phone, the found footage subgenre is highly, perhaps permanently, relevant. Plus, as tired as everyone says it is, I keep seeing new and interesting things being done with it.

By me, by far the most exciting segment of either of the first two V/H/S films is David Bruckner's "Amateur Night," wherein a group of fratboy types get one amongst them to don a pair of video-enabled eyeglasses so that, when they pick up and fuck some drunk girls, they can film the transaction for posterity, bragging rights, and who knows, maybe a little cash. Bruckner has said that the segement was designed as a "joke about the male gaze" and the prevalence of porn. It's certainly funny, in a very dark way: one of the girls the three guys pick up proves to be far too much for them to handle, and the guys are so gross about what they're doing that you can't help but side with her entirely, no matter how weird the evening gets; she's gotta be the most feminist-friendly monstrous female in cinema history. About my only criticism of the film would be that it would have been stronger if (spoiler!) when she goes down on the survivor, bleeding in the stairwell, as her face cracks open and the monster within starts to come out, it would have been far, far more interesting if Bruckner had gone full-on-pornographic, leaving nothing to the imagination, showing his cock going into her (monstrous) mouth and failing to get hard. It would have pushed the episode beyond it's status as one the coolest little horror films I've seen in decades to an eternal, unforgettable boundary-pushing classic, which is almost what it is, anyhow. Too bad we live in a film culture where such things - explicit representations of sex on screen -  don't happen, generally speaking, the odd arthouse film (and, of course, actual porn) aside...

Southbound, opening Friday at the Vancity Theatre, is not a found footage film, from what I've seen. It IS an anthology horror film, and has in common with V/H/S both director David Bruckner (who directs the segment "The Accident," about the aftermath of a car accident; he discusses it with Fangoria here), as well as the collective Radio Silence, who did the closing story of the first V/H/S, about an exorcism gone awry. V/H/S and V/H/S 2 co-producer Roxanne Benjamin, on hand as producer here as well, also directs her first film in Southbound, the segment "Siren," about a girl group stranded on the highway. There are other familiar names - like Larry Fessenden, who is not entirely unexpected to pop up in such a context, and, weirdly, Jesus Lizard/ Scratch Acid frontman David Yow (pretext to insert link to fave Jesus Lizard song here). Everything about the film sounds promising, in fact, from the terrific poster to the initial critical buzz (81% on R/T). It's particularly intriguing to read in the press release that while "filmmakers tend to work separately on most anthology films, Benjamin's team of directors worked together to form a larger story, and even pitched in on the production of each others' segments." Nice to see EC Comics (inspiration for both Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, mentioned above) and The Twilight Zone also getting nods in said release. All the right notes are being struck, and I am now salivating to see this movie.

And jeez, Tom, thanks for programming it theatrically, eh? How often do good, gory horror anthologies pop up on the screens in town? Even the V/H/S films, I caught up on DVD. I'm really keen to see this on the screen.

Alas, all my attempts to preview the film beyond the first fifteen minutes have gone awry. I would have, the better to plug it. All I can say is that it has a suitably WTF framing narrative, with some charming and gory practical effects, but that's really all I got to see - there had been some complication acquiring a working link to an online screener, which was further complicated by my failing attempts to set up my new smart Blu-Ray player (a Samsung that, it turns out, is nowhere near as smart as is claimed, beyond a few presets like Youtube and Netflix) so I wouldn't have to watch it on a computer monitor. Technology ultimately failed, and I finally reconciled myself to watching the film on my girl's laptop this morning, but I had gotten about fifteen minutes in when I was called in to work. Since I'm visiting my Mom tonight, I thought I would pick my viewing up here, on my old PC desktop, but alas, the image was so jerky and stuttery when I loaded it as to be unwatchable, even after letting it buffer, switching browsers, and so forth (blame my shitty PC, which, I remember now, was why I sort of stopped watching online screeners in the first place). I COULD hurry back to Burnaby tomorrow afternoon to finish it on my girl's vastly superior laptop, but at this rate, by the time I finished watching it and writing about it, the film would ALREADY BE PLAYING AT THE THEATRE. And I'd much rather watch it there myself, tomorrow, than race around, cut my visit with Mom short, and/or struggle with inferior technology.

So here, folks: if you like horror movies, you should go see Southbound this weekend at the Vancity Theatre. It surely will be worth your while (and mine). There's only three screenings, so don't miss the chance. Facebook site for the film here, if you're looking for more.

Wonder if they'll use Thin Lizzy over the end credits? I sure would.


Allan MacInnis said...

Danny Nowak, on Facebook, points out that Sunday, further, is the Vancouver Badass Film Festival... looks like a host of horror shorts with two features, The Evil in Us and Atroz (Atrocious, presented by none other than Ruggero Deodato). This one has sort of slipped below my radar, but some of these look like a lot of fun...

The question being, has a few years of slowly being seduced to the dark side, watching scarier and scarier movies with me, made my girlfriend salty enough to take the brutality apparent in some of these films? CAN SHE TAKE IT? Well CAN SHE?

Trailer for The Evil in Us:

Trailer for Atroz:

Allan MacInnis said...

So Southbound was fun! The stories are very much like conscience-driven nightmares. The David Yow one is probably the weakest, story wise, but has some stellar gore. The Bruckner and the Radio Silence bookend story are the best. One correction to the above: while the Radio Silence effects look mostly practical in the first segment, they clearly are computer generated in the second, as is much of the gore... oops!