Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween Double Hitter – Splice and Zombieland

With Mini Militant safely tucked into his crib, Mummy Militant and I decided to spend our Halloween night the traditional way: With a bottle of wine, a nice dinner and some scary movies to enjoy. In honor of film reviewer extraordinaire Haunted Jo, who’s birthday falls appropriately enough on Halloween, here’s how we fared:

Splice, 2009

This French-Canadian horror film stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. The tale of two superstar genetic engineers, the most horrific part of this sci-fi/horror hybrid is probably the fact that it’s going on for real in some laboratory in South Korea right now!

Splice kicks off with Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) working to create a new life form by ‘splicing’ the genetic code of other animals into a single new form. The result is a disgusting amorphous blob of tissue, kind of resembling a hairless Tribble from Star Trek.

Enthused by their work, the French pharmaceutical giant funding Clive and Elsa’s research decides to shut down the splicing labs and funnel their funding into isolating the gene in the new life form that produces a special protein. Clive and Elsa are outraged – they know the secret to isolating that protein is to add human DNA to their monstrous hybrid cocktail, and proceed to do so in secret.

What follows is a squirm-worthy storyline that sees these two talented scientists tiptoeing across one moral boundary after the next. At first they promise that they’re just adding the human DNA to ‘see if it can be done.’ Next they’re incubating their new creation, but promise not to carry it to term. Before you know it, they’re ‘parents’ to a scurrying, chicken-like creature they have to hide in the basement unless the other scientists find out.

Isn't it cute? Just be careful with that lethal stinger-thing it's got.

Due to a genetic flaw, this new creature grows at a phenomenal rate. As it develops, it turns alarmingly, imperfectly human – into a lithe, feminine figure with a whip-like tail and faun-like legs. She’s simultaneously sexy and terrifying – intensely vulnerable, yet capable of murderous brutality.

Aww, the little chicken-thing's all grown up!

It’s the story of how Clive and Elsa raise this creature, who they christen ‘Dren’, that serves as the real meat and potatoes of what would otherwise be a fairly generic sci-fi story. We learn little of Elsa’s backstory, but know that she was raised in an abusive home and soon finds herself exhibiting the same parenting traits as her brutal mother.

Dren, with her pet cat. [SPOILER] If you like cats, don't watch this movie.

Clive, on the other hand, becomes the source of affection and comfort that the child-like Dren craves, until the nature of that intimacy takes a disturbing twist. After ignoring all the moral boundaries in creating this hybrid, the two scientists then continue to overstep normal decency in raising her as well.

Just one of the many scenes in this movie that will make you deeply uncomfortable.

And ultimately, that’s when we discover who the real ‘bad guy’ in this story is. Dren, after all, is just a product of her raising.

This is what happens when you feed your child a vegetarian diet, you crazy hippies.

While some of the more visceral chills come thanks to her (and the life-like computer graphics that bring her to life) it’s the oh-so-human element that will have you squirming in your seat. In the horror genre, there are multiple subdivisions such as ‘medical horror’ and ‘psychological horror.’ Splice is the first film I’d classify as a ‘moral horror’ movie.

Although the psychological aspects play a huge role in it. While the monster mashup portions are kind of predictable, there’s so much scintillating subtext regarding the ‘family’ of Clive, Elsa and Dren that anybody with an interest in human behavior will have a field day analyzing this movie. I think it was Freud who said that ‘every boy wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother.’ It’s not too much of a ‘spoiler’ to warn you that this is exactly what Dren does.

Beautifully acted, deliciously realized and a truly cerebral feast for the senses, Splice is everything a good horror movie should be.

Zomebieland, 2009

The Zom-com (Zombie Comedy) genre was both pioneered and perfected with the British movie Shaun of the Dead, which set the bar pretty bloody high. Zomebieland is a big-budget American offering, starring Woody Harrelson, can’t come close to meeting the standards of Shaun, but is still a wildly entertaining romp through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested America.

Nerdish student ‘Columbus’ has survived the zombie outbreak by sticking to a series of rules – like the ‘double tap’ of shooting a zombie twice, to make sure it’s dead, and ‘cardio’ - because he notes that the unfit fatties were the first to be picked off by the flesh-eating baddies. He’s heading north through the smoldering remains of America, off to find out whether his family survived the disaster.

On the way, he encounters cynical cowboy ‘Tallahassee,’ played to perfection by Woody Harrelson, who reluctantly teams up with Columbus on the longest leg of their journey. Although quite the zombie-killing combination together, they soon get a lesson in humility when their guns and truck are hijacked by two more survivors - ‘Wichita’ and her 12-year-old sister ‘Little Rock.’

Effective zombie killing as all about teamwork. And major head trauma.

Eventually teaming up together, the four of them head west, to the only reputed ‘zombie free’ place in America, an amusement park in Los Angeles. Like all good road movies, the journey is more important than the destination and all four of them learn important lessons along the way.

Zombie strippers and fat guys. How's that for a slice of pure, comedy gold?

There have been a plethora of zombie movies recently, and Zomebieland only stands apart from them by focusing on the comedy aspects of the script, rather than the horror ones. There are some truly laugh-out loud funny moments along the journey to California, plus a sublime cameo by Ghostbusters star Bill Murray.

Ultimately, though, Zomebieland’s pretty much a one-trick pony. Shaun of the Dead is one of those films you can watch again and again – Zomebieland’s a bit too pithy and one-dimensional to stand up to repeat viewing. That being said, there are few more satisfying flicks to munch popcorn through, and you certainly won’t regret the rental price.

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