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July 16th, 2005

But MY hyperbole is true!

If you check out the current "Throwdown" between Mike Marano and I at:

http://www.chizine.com/throwdown.htm

...you'll see we cover George Romero's Land of the Dead, and in the course of my review I call it "the best American horror film since Silence of the Lambs".

I had a couple of reasons for doing that: First, I really do believe it's a superlative film, a rare horror film that would rather be smart than ridiculous, that prefers to disturb instead of just shock. But, equally important, I wanted people to argue with that statement, so I could respond with, "Really? What's been better?"

First off, please note the use of the word "American" in that claim. I do believe there have been a number of better horror movies made in other parts of the world (i.e., Kim Ji-woon's Korean masterpiece A Tale of Two Sisters, or Hideo Nakata's Japanese neo-classic Ringu). But - despite a recent horror "renaissance" in Hollywood - we seem almost incapable of making a decent horror film in the U.S. any more. We seem to have peaked in the late 70s, and it's been all downhill from there.

I've had two films offered up so far to challenge Land of the Dead's king-of-the-hill status: One was David Fincher's 1995 break-out Se7en, and I am willing to concede that Se7en is a worthy competitor. It created a vision of an urban hell that was (at the time) completely unique and viscerally uncomfortable; it was smart, beautifully made and supremely well acted, including probably the best work Brad Pitt has ever done. I still have a personal preference for Land of the Dead (if Se7en fails anywhere, it's in the stereotypical use of its female lead as victim), and I'd also point out that Fincher's film was still a decade ago.

The other film suggested was Brad Anderson's debut Session 9, which I confess I'd not seen until last night, and this one I'll argue completely: Session 9 offers a good idea (blue-collar, middle-aged male horror) and sloppy, inexperienced execution. The film is consistently confusing; it shows us a group of hazmat workers on an insane deadline, but in most of the scenes they're sitting around eating, goofing off or (most inexplicably) listening to old patient tapes. The lay-out of the huge building they're cleaning out is impossible to follow, and we never have any idea of where characters are in relation to other characters. Conflict often feels artificially inflated, as these characters scream at each other for (sometimes) minor incidents. The lead actor's performance is so over the top that the denouement is predictable.

I'm frankly not sure why anyone would consider Session 9 to be a great horror film. As mentioned above, it's premise raises it above the usual slasher or teens-in-danger crapfest, but it fails so badly to deliver on its promise that it can at best be considered a valiant but unsuccessful effort.

So, I'll modify my hyperbole this much: Land of the Dead is the best American horror film of the last decade.

Still open to challenges.

Now, excuse me while I run off to dive headlong into Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. A girl has her priorities, you know.

WKW is coming!

Just found out Wong Kar-wai's almost-gorgeous-to-the-point-of-swoon-inducing 2046 is opening theatrically here in L.A. in a few weeks. A must-see on a big screen. Brilliant. Hypnotic. Sexy. Some of the best science fiction production design in ages. Amazing cast (the best thing Zhang Ziyi has ever done).

See it.