In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Horror Debates Part II

Last Wednesday, The popular Black Museum Debate Club returned with four teams arguing which of their chosen flicks was the best horror sequel.

Like before, each team consisted of two speakers;

Returning champions Tal Zimerman (Writer, Rue Morgue Magazine) and Steve Kostanski (Director, Manborg) were Team Dawn of the Dead.
The new duo of Alison Lang (editor-in-chief, Broken Pencil Magazine) & Simon Borer (musician, Entire Cities) made up Team Exorcist III.
Less Lee Moore (Writer, and Shaun Hatton (TV's The Electric Playground) comprised Team Aliens.
Alexandra West (Writer, Famous Monsters of Filmland) and J.M. McNab (Rewatchability podcast) were Team Evil Dead II.

Like last time, the debate was broken up into six rounds, after which returning judge Stuart “Feedback” Andrews awarded points based on performance. The first two rounds consisted of opening statements followed by a prepared six-to-eight minute video supporting their case. Here are some highlights;

Team Dawn of the Dead's three main points were scope, gore effects and the music.

Tal Zimerman: “Dawn of the Dead is the greatest sequel ever. It is the greatest movie ever. George A. Romero took his end of the world scenario, the likes of which no one had ever seen before, to levels unimaginable by audiences of the day.”

“Dawn offers bang for the buck unlike any other movie. There are so many gore gags and effects – exploding heads, flesh torn from necks, arms and legs, entrails pulled from body cavities, heads lopped off by helicopter blades and swords, heads blown off by shotguns, rifles handguns, split in half by machetes and dented by hammers, zombies run over by trucks, blown up by Molotov cocktails, and thrown off balconies.”

Steve Kostanski: “From the title card which explodes in a burst of guitar and synth, to the throbbing serenade that comprises Dawn's main theme, this action-packed funk workout – yes I actually just said funk workout – underscored the film's sequences and would be Goblin's most accomplished musical effort to date. No small feat considering the amazing soundtracks for Profondo Rosso and Suspiria that had come before.”

Team Exorcist III's three main points were atmosphere, the acting and that their film was the only true horror sequel of the quartet.

Simon Borer: “You know what's not scary? The evils of consumerism. You know what's not scary? Space. Nobody here is going to space, it's going to be fine. And if you find a book bound in human skin in the basement of an abandoned cabin? Don't read from it. You know what is fuckin' scary? Old people. This movie is about getting old, it's about seeing your friends embalmed, it's about seeing your friends succumb to dementia and it's a fear we're all going to have to face and that's why this has the scariest atmosphere of any movie.”

Alison Lang: “George C. Scott gives this amazing performance (as Detective Kinderman) and we have also have Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer, who we all know is one of the best character actors out there. And he fuckin' acts the shit out of that role! He's so fucking scary! And he doesn't need any prosthetics, he doesn't need any gore, he's just Brad Dourif. He just looks like a man possessed!”

Team Aliens' three main points were escalation, that the film works as a stand-alone, yet also has callbacks to the original.

Shaun Hatton: “Aliens raises the stakes of the first film, which is something that sequels should do. In Alien, there was a small crew aboard the Nostromo trying to fend off one alien. In Aliens, however, there is a colony of people who have been destroyed by a nest of Aliens. The situation is so bad that a special group of marines are sent in along with Ripley, the only human survivor of the first film.”

Less Lee Moore: “Ripley takes charge in Aliens, an equal of the men in the film instead of being saved by them. That makes her one of the first female action heroines, beating out Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 by four years.”

“It is still scary like its predecessor, but it also adds action and comedy into the mix in the form of the marines, especially Private Hudson, played by Bill Paxton, whose scenes have become iconic.”

Team Evil Dead 2's three main points were ingenuity, Bruce Campbell and its creation of a universe.

J.M. McNab: “What's great about Evil Dead 2 is that it takes these formal building blocks of cinematic storytelling and really propel them to new creative heights. We've got these crazy tracking shots, stylized edits, the assaultive audio mix and the crazy prosthetics and make-up effects. This style was widely copied in this movie, and never equalled in our opinion.”

Alexandra West: “Bruce Campbell aka Ash really gives one of the most iconic performances in the entirety of the horror genre. Ash starts out as this smarmy guy, who loses his girlfriend to demons, has a mental breakdown, he fights with his own body, and eventually he emerges to become this crazy awesome, anti-hero with a chainsaw for a hand. There are very few films that have this kind of range. It speaks to the amazing relationship that Campbell and Sam Raimi have that they can push each other's limits.”

“This movie really builds the mythology and creates a wonderful world to play in. They make something really bold and exciting and new, while still respecting the horror genre. You can tell from this film that is a genre and they really love and are passionate about.”

After the supporting video segments, came the trivia round which consisted of five sequel-based questions. When the dust settled, Team Dawn and Evil Dead 2 were tied with ten points, with Exorcist III and Aliens following behind with, eight and six points, respectively.

Then after an intermission, the debaters returned with their rebuttals. Here’s what went down when the claws came out;

Team Dawn of the Dead on Exorcist III;
TZ: “We have a problem with you saying that Exorcist III is the only horror sequel up here. That might be the case relative to Aliens, but come on. Dawn of the Dead's a horror film, Evil Dead 2's a horror film. They may have comedic elements, but yours is certainly not the only horror sequel.”

SK: “And is this movie even a sequel? The exorcism in the movie wasn't in the original cut. The one scene that ties this movie to The Exorcist directly, the exorcist scene, was added after the fact. It was added into the film against the director's wishes, so it's not supposed to be there.”

Team Dawn of the Dead, Tal Zimerman (left) & Steve Kostanski.

On Aliens;
TZ: “We don't feel the stakes are raised, because they are ARMED TO THE TEETH!”

SK: “A good example of this is the chestburster scene in both films. In the original when it happens, that's the most horrifying scene in the movie. But in Aliens when it happens, their immediate response is to blast it with a flamethrower which kind of diffuses the scene. It takes away from it being a horror film.”

On Evil Dead 2;
TZ: “Creating a world? The world that's created in Evil Dead 2 is... Evil Dead plus Bugs Bunny. It's not so much a world as it is a cabin. It's basically a world that was already there. It was Evil Dead, plus slapstick comedy. I'm sorry, a world does not that make.”

“They pulled back on the horror element quite a bit, here's what Bruce Campbell said, and I quote 'we didn't want to create a movie that would cause kids to have nightmares. We wanted to have a wider appeal so we took out some of the real gore and put in some Three Stooges type gags.'”

Team Exorcist III on Dawn of the Dead;
SB: “When I said we were the only horror sequel, I meant that nobody else was both horror and a sequel. I don't feel Dawn of the Dead is the true sequel to Night of the Living Dead. It doesn't have the same tone, it has none of the same actors. John A. Russo retained the rights to 'The Living Dead', so the Return of the Living Dead is the film we should recognize as the sequel.”

Team Exorcist III, Simon Borer & Alison Lang.

On Aliens;
“Okay. What do the movie NBC sitcom Mad About You and Aliens have in common? The answer is they're not horror movies. Alien was a horror movie. It was an awesome haunted house movie. Aliens was an action movie, a trial run for Avatar.” 

On Evil Dead 2;
AL: “Ash is an action movie hero. He's not necessarily a horror movie hero. He's sort of a gunslinger, a buffed-up wise cracking, womanizing guy. Horror I relate to people who are disturbed or beleaguered, fighting their way to some sort of resolution. Ash to me always seems like a winner from beginning to end. To me that qualifies more as an action movie, not a horror movie.”

Aliens on Dawn of the Dead;
SH: “You talked about bang for your buck. There is a lot of various gore, but no mention of many scenes of people arguing, and the main characters playing 'house' for a very long time. Nothing particularly horror about that.”

Team Aliens, Less Lee Moore & Shaun Hatton.

On Exorcist III;
“The only reason it was directed by Blatty was because John Carpenter passed on it. That is a sleight. John Fucking Carpenter is like, 'no!'. Imagine how awesome The Exorcist III would have been with like, Jack Burton in it. Fucking great!”

On Evil Dead 2;
“You mention that the cinematic ingenuity was often copied since. Yes, it was copied mainly by... Raimi. He keeps using the stuff he used in Evil Dead 2 over and over again.”

“Again, I would argue that this isn't a horror film, as the other two teams have said, as much as it is a slapstick movie with ridiculous gore and that there is nothing terribly horrifying about it.”

Evil Dead 2 on Dawn of the Dead;
JM: “I find it interesting that one of your main points was the scope of the movie, considering most of the movie takes place in a shitty mall and a TV station. A lot of it is just people wandering around an abandoned department store, it's basically an episode of Today's Special.”

“I do like Dawn of the Dead, but I think in retrospect, it is kind of the American Beauty of horror movies. When I was sixteen I thought, 'people do go to malls, yeah fuck them' and now it's like, 'sometimes I need shoes.'”

Team Evil Dead 2, Alexandra West & J.M. McNab

On Exorcist III;
AW: “That one iconic scene with the nurse that you showed works because it plays itself out, the rest of the movie is this big Blatty wank-fest, with like lightning shots.”

JM: “I thought it was funny one of your main points was acting, considering I was surprised George C. Scott didn't choke on the scenery he was chewing. There's scenes where someone's like 'oh, you should look at the police report', and he's like 'NO, I WILL NOT LOOK AT THE REPORT GODDAMMIT!'”

“Also, I think it is worth noting there is not one shot in Evil Dead 2 that contains Fabio.”

On Aliens;
AW: “It didn't really change from the first one. Ripley always took charge. Even when she wasn't in a position of power, she was always saying what was right, always stating her mind, that's why she's a great character. So to say that's something new and original in Aliens is just plain wrong. They were just aping on that from the first film.”

“You mentioned call-backs? EVERY sequel has call-backs. I pity the sequel that does not have some form of call-back.”

Going into the last two rounds, Dawn and Evil Dead were still locked in a tie with twelve points, with Exorcist III right behind with ten.

Team Evil Dead 2 pulled ahead briefly after the closing statements, but the audience vote surprisingly favoured Exorcist III and put them into a tie for first with Evil Dead 2 with fifteen points.

Following a tie-breaking trivia question about the members of the Sawyer family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, TEAM EXORCIST III were crowned the victors and took home the Golden Tentacle trophy.

After two debates, it certainly seems like the underdogs flourish in this environment. In this particular instance, a win from Team Exorcist III made sense, as they were the only ones that didn’t make a grievous error over the course of the debate.

Tal of Team Dawn misspoke when he tried to argue that Aliens failed to be scary because there were too many characters in the film, saying that made us not give a damn about any of them.

Alex of Team Evil Dead 2 made the ill-advised statement that Dawn of the Dead was a boring film that she could barely stay awake through.

Team Aliens’ whole argument was inherently flawed in that they didn’t really talk up the horror aspects of the movie. There can be absolutely no doubt that Aliens is one of the best action films – if not the best – of all time, but a horror sequel? That’s a tougher sell, and they shot themselves in the foot by not concentrating on the few horrific elements that it does have.

So, Exorcist III came through with the win, basically by championing that it was the purest horror offering of the bunch. This was another good debate, even if the score keeping was a little befuddling at times.

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