Horror Film Of The Year
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 15)
A Night to Remember (Roy Ward Baker, U)
The Cabin in the Woods is about the best fun you’ll have in the cinema for a long time. This gruesome US horror features a barrage of surprises that will leave you gasping in uneasy admiration. Which is precisely why it’s impossible to describe the plot in any detail without bandaging it up in spoiler alerts.
I’ll just say that The Cabin in the Woods manages to combine two seemingly unconnected plot strands – the first involving two white-collar drones in an office chatting over coffee, the second that sees a group of nubile college students head for a vacation in a remote backwater – with breathtaking invention. It subverts all the horror clichés while forging them anew to create an experience at once smartly ironic and terrifyingly immediate. And it is the hybrid brainchild of Joss Whedon (who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Drew Goddard (the writer of Cloverfield).
Horror fans are notoriously discerning but the bloody handprints of those two film-makers should be a mark of quality. Sure enough, genre fans are hailing The Cabin in the Woods as a ‘game-changer’ for horror cinema.
In the hope you take my word for it and buy a ticket to endure the shocks of the movie, here’s my rundown of past horror flicks that have revolutionised the genre.
Nosferatu: An adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with the names changed for copyright
reasons), this 1922 German film set the template for vampire flicks. It’s not very frightening these days, but it’s undoubtedly still creepy – and some film historians have even claimed the film’s sense of dread anticipates the mood of national anxiety in Germany at the time, which would culminate in the rise to power of Hitler.
Cat People: This 1942 Hollywood chiller about a young bride who believes her upcoming marriage risks turning her into a killer cat combines an unsettling atmosphere, a whole stew of sexual neuroses and a wonderfully feline performance from Simone Simon. Its horrors are mostly unseen but no less effective for it.
Night of the Living Dead: Filmed in scuzzy black and white on a miniscule budget, this
zombie film was hugely influential. Visceral, unrelenting, taboo-busting, it also made a cult figure of director George A Romero.
Ringu: I wandered into a press screening of this 1998 film thinking I was about to see an earnest Japanese teen drama. Big mistake. Unprepared for what was to follow, I was a wreck after sitting through Hideo Nakata’s chilling film about the supernatural power of a videotaped curse. Just as well I saw it with an audience and not alone in front of a TV, like the film’s young victims.
Saw: Horror films aren’t supposed to be nice, so the calculated nastiness of this 2004 film about
a man tormented by an unseen surreal killer demands respect. But the film did inaugurate a spate of inferior copycat movies, so-called ‘torture porn’ flicks, with diminishing returns.
That, incidentally, is a view shared by Joss Whedon, who despaired of the torture porn genre as being “where kids we don’t care about are mutilated for hours”, and described The Cabin in the Woods as a reaction to the trend. If you have the stomach, it’s recommended. Just don’t find too much out about it before you go.
And another thing…
Cheekily, the week after the re-release of Titanic comes the re-release of A Night to Remember, the 1958 British film about the sinking of the unsinkable ocean liner. The stiff upper lip on display here has far more impact than all the special effects in James Cameron’s epic combined.
La Grande Illusion (1937)
Two aristocratic officers cross paths during World War I, finding they have shared experiences and acquaintances. Problem is, they’re soldiers in opposing armies, one a prisoner of war, the other a camp commandant. Renoir’s classic is a sobering account of the futility of war. Stirring and sentimental (it’s where Casablanca pilfered its La Marseillaise scene from), the grand illusion is that any action or sacrifice means a damn while the cycle of war churns on.
Director: Jean Renoir. 75th anniversary edition out on Blu-ray on April 23