Tuesday, June 16, 2020

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1992, Day Twelve: Horror in Cinema

As I said on day one, the impetus for choosing 1992 was an episode of Screen Drafts, the movie podcast that pairs experts and enthusiasts in a competitive collaboration to come up with best-of lists. The episode in question was 1992 Horror, drafted by Joe Begos and Graham Skipper, which posited that the 90s in general was an underrated decade for horror, but 1992 in particular boasted some gems. Their final list of seven included both theatrical and straight-to-video releases, and I did my due diligence and watched everything. I listened to the podcast once more and sought out not just their top seven, but films discussed that didn't make the final list, plus a couple of other flicks.

Here's just a sampling: ten horror films theatrically released in US cinemas in 1992, nine of which were mentioned on the podcast:

Basket Case 3
The original Basket Case is grungy and ghastly, its cult classic was inevitable. By the time we get to this third chapter, the returns have...diminished. It seems odd to describe a film that opens with the longest, most grotesque sex scene in movies as "wholesome," but its menagerie of monsters present exactly that. Stomach-churning, yet familial. It could work, but it's not very interesting.

From the moment I saw it, I knew I loved it - and yet I don't like thinking too much about it. It gets under your skin, changes your mood; like Helen, one becomes hypnotized, drawn to its forbidden allure, its necessary cleansing of sins. A powerful portrayal of white crimes foisted on the black community, on the lingering curse of class and race exploitation. Philip Glass's score is, naturally, perfect.

Dr. Giggles
A horror-comedy about a psycho obsessed with his serial killer doctor dad, with the final girl a teen with a heart condition. Not that the latter point really comes into any satisfying play. Indeed, don't worry about any characters you meet along the way, for they are here merely to be victims in increasingly outlandish kills. Could be entertaining, but...it's...not...

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
There's actually a lot that I admire here: its expanded mythos with Captain Spencer and Pinhead, the makeup and gore effects, Paula Marshall's performance, Kevin Bernhardt's body. But as with the first entry in this franchise, there is something keeping me at arm's length. Every flavor by itself is great, but mixed together, they cancel each other out and create something surprisingly bland. I don't get it!

Innocent Blood
Charmless and dull. Next.

The Lawnmower Man
A mentally handicapped gardener becomes a genius through the VR experiments of his scientist neighbor. It's the original Lucy, though in this case the 100% of the brain power unlocked doesn't just give him psychic and telekinetic abilities; it also drives him maaaaad. It shouldn't work, but dammit, it's really well-done: good performances, terrific kills, an effective final scene. Even the dated CG effects still pack a punch precisely because they look so unrealistic, a program invading our reality.

Pet Sematary Two
Just when you think it's just fine, could be better if it weren't for Edward Furlong, there comes a scene that is so perfect in its blend of queasy violence, bittersweet comeuppance, and fucked-up sense of humor, it immediately becomes a dangerous, exciting film. And it carries that all the way to its finale, right down to a final curtain call that positions each death not as horror kills, but as trauma scars left on our protagonist's psyche. Thoughtful, that.

A Stephen King original, complete with incest, scary gay men, good cats, dancing in a movie theater lobby, and shapeshifting beasties. Doesn't explain too much, leaving much of the mythology of its titular nomads under a shroud of mystery. It works! A real corker.

I quite liked this horror-comedy that takes aim at white affluence and its feeding off of the "lower" classes to maintain its status, literalizing that idea with a stomach-churning climax. It also literalizes it through a clumsy line of dialogue, but otherwise, it's a clever and nauseating skewering of Beverly Hills society, and the incestuousness and patriarchal structure of the upper class.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
A prequel to the cult classic TV series, focusing on the final days of Laura Palmer. whether Bob is an evil entity capable of possession or a way for her to disassociate from what's happening to her, it's still a potent examination of how victims cope with ongoing abuse, the difficulty of discussing it, and the way it effects their daily life and interactions. A breathtaking movie.

Tomorrow, a look at some of the straight-to-video horror releases of 1992.

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