Anything that begins with “Based on a True Story” or some variation of that phrase is almost always going to be complete and total bullshit. Take for example The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film introduced generations of people into the gritty, gory subgenre of the slasher movie and, from the standpoint of horror, is a true masterpiece by Tobe Hooper. But the film itself is “based on a true story.” You ever looked up the “true” part of Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No? Well, it is based on an infamous American serial killer and necrophile named Ed Gein. Gein is known to have murdered two women but dug up and desecrated the corpses of dozens of others using flesh and bone to create everything from belts and bowls to a woman suit that he was in the process of tailoring when he was finally arrested. Gein and his unresolved mother issues served as the inspiration for numerous other horror icons including Norman Bates but it was his woman suit that inspired the now equally infamous Leatherface.
That’s it. The true story behind Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that the main villain has some clothes made out of long pig leather the same as Ed Gein.
Kind of a let down, really.
Then you have those “true stories” that are complete and total fabrications and fairy tales from the minute the house lights go down. Take, for example, The Amityville Horror. I love the story, don’t get me wrong. I’m always a sucker for a good demonic possession tale. But I’ve learned over my years as both a horror fiend and an amateur paranormal researcher that anything and everything documented by the duo of Ed and Lorraine Warren is bullshit conjured up by the pair to make money. The internet is full of information on the couple whose paranormal research and expulsion techniques were both revered and refuted from the late 60’s through the late 80’s. Did they really do battle with the same demon over and over again through New England? Is the now famous Raggedy Ann doll known as Annabelle really the most dangerously possessed object in the world? Did they help take advantage of a senseless act of family violence and claims that “the devil made me do it” in order to make a quick buck and build their reputation. I can only answer “yes” to one of those questions and I think you know which one it is.
Even so, I decided to go see a press screening of Warner Brother’s new addition to their Conjuring Universe (or Conjurverse as I’ve been calling it) and, I have to say, aside from the claims that it was a “true story” I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I don’t often have anything complimentary to say about big-studio horror movies. Most end up being watered down, PG-13 knock-offs of popular themes in the genre with a certain degree of fan service and pseudo-self awareness meant to be clever, but that always makes the cast and writers look like buffoons.
The Conjurverse (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle) falls into this category, with very few exceptions across the three films so far in its canon. To add to this reputation of superficial, unimaginative horror, you’re selling the stories as “Based On True Events” from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who have a contentious reputation as charlatans and frauds in paranormal circles. All of this aside, sometimes it just takes a while to get some momentum before you really take flight.
Annabelle: Creation begins setting tone and atmosphere from the opening credits and punches you right in the expectations in the first 10 minutes. I was honestly shocked. I rolled my eyes as the house lights when down and the film began because I was expecting more of the banal and unoriginal. But this film pulled out all the stops in terms of pacing and storytelling. The film focuses on the Mullins family, who open their home to a small group of orphan girls in the wake of their daughter’s tragic and sudden (not to mention a bit shocking) death at the start of the film.
Meanwhile, I also finally got the chance to watch one of my favorite creatures in his latest, and in my opinion greatest appearance to date. Shin Godzilla (alternately Godzilla Resurgence) is the latest installment of Toho’s now synonymous giant monster series returning to the genre’s roots by telling a political story against the backdrop of an atomic holocaust brought on by a kaiju wrecking Tokyo. I watched this movie just days before the passing of Haruo Nakajima, the actor who originally dawned the rubber lizard suit in the original Godzilla decades before. The genre has become the Japanese equivalent of the zombie movie, in my opinion, being used to tell stories relevant to the society and culture in a manner that can entertain and terrify.
The passing of Haruo Nakajima came just days after I was able to watch Shin Godzilla for the first time. It’s made me pause to reevaluate the way I was going to write this article. Initially, I’d intended it to be a straight review of the latest episode in the life and times of the most well-known lizard beast in cinematic history but now, thinking on what I was going to say, I’ve gone back and watched the original Godzilla (or Gojira) and I think there are some parallels to be found in these two movies made sixty years apart from one another.
Shin Godzilla is the most recent addition to the Toho series of movies surrounding the legendary King of the Monsters. The story itself, however, is an origin story and an entry into an entirely new universe of stories about the titular monster. While this isn’t the first time we’ve had the character reintroduced, it falls more in line with a much older trope in which the creature is far from the heroic defender of mankind that we’ve come to know in American and Japanese cinema over the last few decades. However, he’s also no villain. The Godzilla of this latest film is a natural disaster, an unprecedented nuclear creation that washes onto the shores of Tokyo and threatens the modern mega city with its very existence.
And since we started this post off talking about classic slasher films I figured I should end it talking about what is arguably the coolest indie slasher I’ve seen in a while. The film is appropriately titled WTF!
Never have I seen a movie that so perfectly lived up to its title like WTF! and I’ve seen my fair share of slasher movies over the years. I’ve watched all the classics and I’ve dug down into the dregs and I can safely say that, despite the overwhelming popularity of the genre, it’s very hard to make a timeless classic about a crazed killer. But there are always exceptions. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th set the bar for fans and filmmakers while others like Hatchet and The Strangers have elevated the notion over the years. WTF! adds to this proud tradition while making some genuinely different and memorable marks through a narrative that is both familiar and completely unique. The film is about a young girl (Rachel) who survives a terrifying slaughter while on a spring break vacation with her friends to a cabin in the woods. The final girl, she spends the next three years rebuilding her life, making friends, and struggling to graduate as she come to grips with the horror she witnessed only to allow herself to be drug along on another rustic outing destined to end in bloodshed. Unfortunately for Rachel’s friends, some traumas are too powerful to be forgotten.
I’ve seen a lot of low budget and indie slasher movies and very few of them have been good. In fact, I try not to write about them unless there is something redeeming to mention. Usually the camera angles are terrible, the editing is amateurish, and the acting is on a par with an amateur porno. WTF! , however, has to be one of the more professionally and skillfully made indie slashers I’ve ever seen. From the opening scene as a topless woman covered in blood runs screaming from a darkened cabin only to be struck down by the killer, the film hooks you from the start and won’t let you go. The cinematography is on point with the writing while the director and cast make this one of the more relate-able, and bizarre, crazed killer flicks I’ve had the pleasure of watching.
Dragon Con is a few weeks away and, as of last night, I finally got my lodging sorted out. I also found out that I’ve been approved to attend the Women in Horror Film Festival in Atlanta at the end of September. I’ll be covering that for 52 Weeks of Horror and, hopefully, getting a chance to talk to a lot of amazing women working in front of and behind the lens on horror films and in the industry over all. Truth be told, I’m more excited about this than Dragon Con. I mean, horror cinema and horror literature are my two artistic passions and meeting and connecting with people in those circles is what I need to be doing as I continue to try and get my career off the ground. It’s going to be incredible and I honestly can’t wait.
Meanwhile I am, unfortunately, no closer to an official announcement on the zombie walk than I was the last time I spoke about it. We’ve got a major sponsor on the line to cover the costs and the insurance it’s just a matter of getting the time set up with them to actually get things done. I wanted to announce a date, a time, and a route by this point in August but, you know what they say about good intentions and the best laid plans. All I can tell you for sure is Halloween weekend, downtown Nashville, and it’s going to be great.
In the meantime, take a look at this video courtesy of 52 Weeks of Horror and Haley Joanna FX that might just give you some ideas on how to make a gruesome zombie face for the Nashville Zombie Walk.
Until next time.