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January 9, 2007

In Case You Missed It—January 9, 2006

I’ve never been a huge fan of horror as a genre, but for some reason I always end up watching it. I don’t know why, perhaps it springs from the same masochistic urge that pushes people into watching Blue Collar TV or listening to Barry Manilow. Almost every horror movie that comes down the pipeline is just another excuse to show blood, guts, and boobies, and generally make a mess of what might have been money well spent on a drama. But every once in a while, a horror movie will come along that (for various reasons) is worth renting. As such, I present to you two of my favorite horror movies in recent memory.

Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)

I never got around to seeing the American version of Ju-On:The Grudge, but from all accounts, it was more ridiculous and nonsensical than scary. Without seeing it, I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure is that I saw the original and didn’t sleep for three days. And I don’t mean, “I saw this movie and got a little nervous that night while lying in bed,” I mean I literally sat in bed with the lights on for the next three nights. An old friend of mine who is 30 years old, six-foot-five and 250 pounds had a similar response. No one I know who has seen this movie has come out of it the same.

And to me, that is exactly what a horror movie should be. I believe horror as a genre stems from the innate human propensity for thrill seeking. On some basic, twisted level, we like to be reminded of our own mortality, we like to witness death in all its terror, we want to be brought to the edge every time we walk into that movie theater. And Ju-On:The Grudge accomplishes this as few movies have.

The basic plot is rather simple and actually pretty irrelevant. Essentially, a Japanese man murdered his wife and child (and their cat) in their quiet little home, and now the spirit of the wife/child/husband/cat (the movie’s never quite clear) acts out violently against anyone who enters the house. I’ve watched the movie four times and each time it makes less sense, but it really doesn’t matter and in fact, it enhances the terror of the experience. In The Ring you had to watch the video before you died and even in Saw there were rules to follow. In Ju-On: The Grudge, all you know is that the spirit strikes sometime after you enter the house, maybe the next day, maybe years down the road. Sometimes you can escape it, sometimes you can’t. And in fact, it even kills quite a few people who don’t enter the original house at all. It is liquid, amorphous, unstoppable death. It is everything we fear in life personified and approaching with only the sound of someone gurgling through a strangled throat.

Sure, Halloween made me a little jumpy, and The Ring made me check the VCR a couple times. Ju-On is simply 92 minutes of pure, undistilled terror. There are really no characters, no deep plot, no real greater meaning. This movie exists to remind us of the frailty of our lives, and that at any moment death may seep, inescapable, into the dark shadows of our homes.

The Feast (2005)

I found this movie incorrectly filed under “Horror” at my local Blockbuster. It’s not scary; it’s not really even that exciting. But what Feast really shows is that other aspect of horror that I want to touch on: outright sadistic hilarity.

Feast is the story of a group of strangers trapped in a bar surrounded by creatures from God knows where. We never know where they came from or what their intent is, we just know that they kill things very quickly, very messily, and very hilariously. The bar patrons band together to fight them off and…yawn, I’m sure you know how the story goes.

Feast, however, is “totally wacky” and “independent.” When a muscular, clean-cut “hero” bursts into the bar covered in blood and sporting a roguish five o’clock shadow, he’s killed in about thirty seconds. And I’m also not spoiling much when I say they also kill a kid pretty early to set you on your toes. Feast tries to be clever and original, but the characters are so one-dimensional and the plot so hokey that it fails completely at being a witty, edgy horror and becomes simply a blood fest of epic proportions.

But Feast’s ultimate failure is the viewer’s gain. I’m not quite sure if the filmmakers intended this, but Feast ends up as a rollicking, messy, grotesque comedy that’s funny because what happens to the characters is so awful. I, for one, started out scoffing at the movie’s apparent seriousness, and ended up making bets with my friends over which character’s death would be the most hilarious. (I lost. It’s actually the way one of the monsters dies that ends up being the most hilarious. I won’t spoil anything, but it involves tearing out bodily organs through the throat.)

I’m not sure if Feast was meant to be serious, quasi-serious, or some sort of satire on horror as a genre, but it’s damn entertaining in that “dark with lots of blood, guts, and boobies” way that only horror can seem to pull off.