Much was made in the summer of 2000 over The Perfect Storm‘s unexpectedly robust $41 million-plus opening weekend, in which it rode a wave of popular appeal over the grand reveal of that massive, swelling wave effects shot, and trounced Roland Emmerich and Mel Gibson’s The Patriot by a considerable margin. (Emmerich in turn dove headlong into masturbatory FX destruction, perhaps never to return again to anything not involving the destruction of humankind, or at the very least a half dozen national landmarks.) But how significant can a film truly be, in terms of lasting appeal, if it’s misspelled in a studio Blu-ray/home video sell-thru email, as above? No simple typo, either. That means the graphic design intern flubbed it, and no one else caught it. Quiet volumes.
Greenberg director Noah Baumbach and critic Armond White do not like each other… partly because the latter suggested in a review that Baumbach’s mom should’ve had an abortion? Sweet Christ I’m glad I’m not involved in shenanigans like this. Writing with vitriolic flair (when deserved) is one thing, but ad hominem attacks of that sort make clear that the critic’s chief interest is really himself, which shouldn’t be the case. The closest I’ve come to being the subject of a filmmaker vendetta, to my knowledge, is Troy Duffy, who threatened me over the phone and helped orchestrate a campaign of minor harassment on occasion of the original release of The Boondock Saints.
The DVD cover, with a fanged, bulbous-nosed ghoul (evoking either memories of Stephen King’s It or perhaps former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, depending on how you passed your time in the 1980s) superimposed over a rickety mansion, doesn’t necessarily do wonders for one’s expectations regarding low-budget horror flick House of Fears. And the inferred shortcomings come to fruition, don’t you know, unfolding almost in lockstep with a familiar trapped-kids-being-tormented-by-their-fears plot that sadly does not feature the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
After a brief framing preamble, House of Fears unfolds in present day Salem,
Oregon, where a group of friends ditch a party and head over to a
haunted house the night before it opens for the Halloween season,
sneaking in for a fun night of scaring their dates. There’s Hailey (Sandra McCoy) and the guy she’s crushing on, Carter (Corey Sevier), as well as the former’s tag-along stepsister, Samantha (Corri English). And there’s Candice (Alice Greczyn, the randy Amish babe from Sex Drive), who invites along her ex-boyfriend Devon (Michael Pagan), much to the consternation of Zane (Eliot Benjamin), the group’s inside hook-up to the venue.
The set-up of the house involves passing through various levels of “fear.” Soon upon entering, however, the sextet find themselves trapped, with no way to exit. Their planned evening of fun devolves into a nightmare, as they lose their guide Zane and begin to disappear and die in a variety of freakish ways. With every avenue of escape blocked, and it becoming increasingly difficult to discern what’s real and what’s perhaps fake, the dwindling survivors must try to trust one another and negotiate a path out.
There’s a little bit of pop to some of the dialogue early on (“My insurance doesn’t cover hormones,” Hailey’s protective dad spits when he catches her trying to sneak out), but it’s almost immediately too great of a hurdle and suspension of disbelief for McCoy (now 30, though younger when it was shot) and many of her costars to pass as teenagers, and the party-hearty set-up and kids-acclimating-themselves-to-the-house material that precedes the not-terribly-gory bloodletting is all nondescript filler. Working from a script by Steven Lee and John Lyde, director Ryan Little (who also shot the movie himself) leans heavily on overly familiar gimmicks (in-camera flash cuts, close-ups to mask a lack of set dressing) that rob the film of tension. And, as mentioned, House of Fears isn’t a buckets-of-blood-type movie. Hardcore horror aficionados won’t spark to the gore, of which there is very little; there aren’t enough genuine thrills, meanwhile, for the sort of teen audiences who are less wedded to the genre, and just like to be emotionally goosed by movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Grudge. The movie essentially plays like an average Scooby-Doo episode if made by a guy who’d seen some early, low-rent Tobe Hooper flicks.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, House of Fears comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a motion-animated menu screen, and an English language 2.0 stereo audio track. Divided into 14 chapters, its air-quote special features consist only of a photo gallery montage which intercuts between film stills and behind-the-scenes pictures, as well as the movie’s preview trailer. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D+ (Disc)
I dig the blogosphere, broadly speaking (viva variety), but one thing that’s wearying is how the utterly mindless pursuit of traffic ends up reinforcing this herd mentality, wherein a single new photo or trailer or happening MUST BE POSTED, even if there’s no particularly pronounced tie-in/connection with said host site, or even any attendant commentary beyond the most titillating, rib-nudging headline. (See above.) So that means there’s like 15 or 20 movie, music and entertainment-adjacent sites today with Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him hipster porn, a new music video involving hula hoops and dainty skips. (You’re welcome, L.A. Weekly — I picked your link at random.) The overload is such that you sometimes just get the feeling the Internet is the same 5,000 people reading the same 500 sites, circle-jerking to the same rotating menu of 50 topics. When is someone going to deliver a 700-word treatise on the hatwear in Johnny Depp’s filmography?
In what’s been deemed a cost-cutting measure, three-decade veteran Todd McCarthy has been axed by Variety, the latest in a series of critic cappings that recall not so much an industry struggling to find its way in the era of New Media, but a mob movie montage of calculated extinguishings. The reaction from the critical community has been fairly harsh, if somewhat predictable, with Kim Voynar and others lashing out at the myopia of Variety‘s decision, not entirely without reason.
Still, can anyone legitimately claim this a surprise? It’s shocking merely in the way that the culmination of a grand, unsettling event is shocking — like a breakaway dunk in a big basketball upset. It’s an undisputed fact that arts journalism is a devalued brand, and criticism especially so. So Variety played the short money game, because previous cutbacks haven’t worked, and other bold strokes (executive bloodletting, a divestment of office space, and salary rollback) apparently weren’t on the table.
The harsh, bleed-like-me reality, though, is that McCarthy’s salary package was likely worth more than what nine out of 10 film critics make. And for those of a younger generation, film criticism seems to be trending toward a state of perpetual scramble, in which free agent-writers term-contract their services and trade on reputation and demi-celebrity, however dubious a distinction that is. It sucks, because it involves massive amounts of work that isn’t about the work. And yet someone sketch me a plausible macro-alternative.