10 DAYS IN SITGES

Day 2 – Et tu, Leatherface. 

We all know: Remakes are evil. But then again: Why exactly? Stage plays get updated all the time, adjusting to the intentions of new directors and the circumstances of new times. Why not handle screenplays the same way?

ADVICE TO THE FAINT OF HEART: SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

I liked Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. Great ensemble cast, excellent use of light and color, and some worthwhile additions to Hitchcock’s adaptation of the script. I love to admit this. Mainly because it is true, but also because I like to see whiny orthodox movie geeks squirm.

Of course, when it comes to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” I become one of those whiny orthodox movie geeks. Boo-hoo-hoo, how dare they?! The original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is the greatest horror movie ever made. I still watch it on a pretty regular basis, and I’m still amazed by its power. It hasn’t lost anything in almost 30 years. And then there’s all that personal nostalgic crap. What a hassle it was to obtain a bad video copy (the film was banned in my native Germany for several years), how I watched it for the first time with a bunch of drunken buddies (very funny), how I watched it for the first time alone and sober (extremely frightening), how I worried my poor mother sick by wearing a Leatherface t-shirt, and how to this day I hide my usually prominently displayed Leatherface action-figure away when my parents come visit.

This year’s remake is directed by Markus Nispel and produced by Michael Bay. Before the new “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Markus Nispel was mainly known for directing Elton John videos and getting fired from End of Days for a serious lack of people skills. Michael Bay is mostly known for producing and directing films I have not seen, but suspect are as insultingly bad as their trailers. I was pleased to see that this remake is as soulless and pointless as I had hoped. A film you love to hate. The victim characters are totally obnoxious right from the start, you want to see them dead rather sooner than later. Except for the heroine, who is genuinely likable and clever. Makes you wonder why she hangs out with these morons in the first place. The family of cannibals is equally bland. The new grandpa is just a grumpy old man, and what would be the equivalent of the cook character in the original film is now a sadistic sheriff. His shtick gets mighty tiring, and he has much too much screen time for a film called “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and not “The Asshole Cop Talking Bullshit Inferno.” To top it off, there’s a cute retarded child that helps the heroine, and a shot of Leatherface unmasked that is completely uncalled for, especially that early in the movie.

The big question: How is this a remake? Except for Leatherface there is no recognizable returning character, and while the new film uses the same general premise and steals some scenes from the original film, it follows a completely different structure with different locations and different plot-points. Sadly, none of them work. Note to the director and composer: Loud does not equal scary. The film desperately tries to make the audience jump with loud sound effects and musical cues but never succeeds. In fact, the self-indulgent soundtrack often works against the movie in cheapening the visuals with its thundering obviousness. The visuals themselves are not bad, thanks to returning original DP Daniel Pearl. It’s a shame that Nispel couldn’t shape them into anything resembling a proper horror film. I seem to remember that Michael Bay said before production that he wanted to make the remake “less gory” than the original. That just proves that he has never seen the original which features very little gore. The remake is much, much gorier. And much, much less effective.

Not that less necessarily has to be more. One of the goriest films in recent memory, “Suicide Club” by Sion Sono, became an early festival favorite. Having not read up properly on the film before the screening, I walked in expecting a sensitive teen-angst drama. Imagine my surprise. The film opens with some schoolgirls at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Laughing and chatting, as schoolgirls would, they make their way to the platform. They neatly line up next to each other, still in high spirits. When the arriving train is announced, they take each others’ hands, and take a step forward. Then another step. Then they jump before the train – all 54 of them. Their blood splashes the train and the dumbfounded onlookers, floods the platform and makes the tracks so slippery the train can hardly stop. And that is just the beginning of a series of bizarre suicides all over Japan. The police investigate. There’s a mysterious website that seems to count the suicides before they happen. There’s a secretive web girl who claims there is a “suicide club”. There’s an asthmatic boy with a telephone who claims there is no such thing as a “suicide club”. There’s an attention-seeking psychopath who claims he is behind the “suicide club”. And there’s the horribly cute teen-pop band Dessert that might be connected to the suicide fad.

“Suicide Club” is an incredibly bloody satire on a society brainwashed by mass media and obsessed by mass culture. It’s certainly not the first film to tackle these topics, but it is one of the most original. And one of the bloodiest. I can’t stress that enough.

“So Close” is an amazing Hong Kong action film shot like a commercial for hair-care products. It features two sisters who carry out assassinations for a greater good, and the tough female cop who is after them. They eventually have to team-up to bring down a mutual enemy. There is more to the plot, like plans for a top-secret surveillance system, a financial scam, and two tragic love affairs, but forget about that. The appeal is all about lightning-fast fight scenes, violent shoot-outs, incredible stunts, the most improbable technical gadgets, and gorgeous hair in slow-motion. There are some slightly tedious bits in-between fighting, and the line between intentional and unintentional humor is sometimes blurry, but every time the action kicks in all is forgiven. Best watched on a big screen with an enthusiastic audience that will cheer a good hair-shot as frenetically as a graceful kick to the face.
Festival coverage continues in part three of 10 DAYS IN SITGES>>> 




Posted on January 7, 2004 in Festivals by
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