Horror Hysteria: “Rec 3: Genesis”

With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?
With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?

The Spanish “REC” series of zombie movies is one which I clutch dearly to my (mostly) undead heart.  The first two entries in the franchise related the frantically-paced tale of a mysterious viral outbreak in a Barcelona apartment building.  Shot in an immediate, first-person style which plunges the viewer directly into the nightmarishly unfolding action, the films tapped into the storytelling techniques familiar to a generation raised on reality TV and “Call of Duty“-style shooters whilst weaving a background tapestry of governmental collusion, demonic possession and societal mistrust.

The third movie doesn’t quite follow this template, which some fans may count as an unforgivable betrayal.  In “REC 3: Genesis”, we find ourselves watching highlights of Koldo and Clara’s wedding day as it unfolds, meeting the bride (who has a secret…), the groom and their respective families and friends as they gather at the church and the reception afterwards.   The first heads-up that things are going “REC” comes when a guest appears to have suffered a dog bite…

 

Ruh Roh

 

Before you can say “Colega, ¿dónde está mi motosierra?”, the recently undead are running amok, chowing down on second cousins and forcing apart Clare and Koldo on the happiest day of their lives.  It’s at this point that the film jettisons any pretence at found footage with a meta-joke about people who keep recording in the midst of a disaster instead of just running for their lives.  The film swaps to a traditional 2:35:1 aspect ratio at this point, giving long-suffering Horror aesthetes like your humble blogger the chance to enjoy the zombie-riffic carnage in a more cinematic style than hand-held video permits.

And this may be the problem for a lot of fans of the series.  In acknowledging the tenets of traditional narrative cinema, the immediacy is lost and you’re watching just a.n. other horror movie, rather than going into the grisly heart of the action as in previous franchise entries. That would be fine if the film was a nerve-shredding exercise in suspense and white-knuckle terror, but this third entry in the series is closer to “Zombieland” than “Zombie Flesh Eaters”.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but your mileage may vary if you fear the dread spectre of mainstream norms gatecrashing our undead party.

The focus is on situational chuckles rather than survival horror, save for the last ten minutes of the film which take a sojourn into more serious territory.  The performances scale upwards accordingly and if you went into the third movie expecting the vivid terrors of the first two entries, this film’s exaggerated caricatures and more sentimental overtures might well stick in the craw like so much undigested flesh.

 

The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre

 

I really enjoyed this film and was punching the air by the time that Clara (Leticia Dolera) was slashing her wedding dress up with a chainsaw to make easier work of dispatching ghouls.   That it doesn’t have the relentless drive and manic shocks of the first film proved to me that “REC 3” was happy to take a different path and not just repeat the riffs of its predecessors.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Finding some narrative hook to justify a team of survivors documenting their path through an undead uprising rather suggests that the established filming conventions are more important than the story – surely not the right message to send when, as audiences, we complain about studios and film-makers being content to fall back on the same old tropes?

At a scant 80 minutes, it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome and is at least trying to do something different – I’ve can’t recall the last time I saw a ravenous horde of flesh-munchers stopped in their shuffling tracks by a priest reciting Bible verse over the hotel P.A. system…

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil”

Eat chainsaw death, college boy!
Eat chainsaw death, college boy!

 

The marriage of horror and comedy is fraught with danger.  Get it right and you get “Evil Dead 2”, “Shaun of the Dead” or “An American Werewolf in London”.  Get it wrong and you have a “Scary Movie”, “Lesbian Vampire Killers” or “An American Werewolf in Paris” on your hands.

Thankfully, Eli Craig’s “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil” is very much of the former camp.

Set in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, the film pits hard-working, blue-collar Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) against an increasingly paranoid band of holidaying college kids who’ve gotten the idea that the two local boys are actually creepy psychos with designs on snuffing them out.

Tucker and Dale’s best efforts to make peace with the group are undone when Dale accidentally causes Alison (Katrina Bowden) to bang her head whilst skinny dipping.  Dale’s rescue is misinterpreted by the kids as a kidnap and things get progressively bloodier, blackly comedic and deliriously absurd from then on with the guys’ simple desire to fix up Tucker’s dilapidated vacation home being thwarted by disposable teens flinging themselves at the putative backwoods murderers before they meet bloody ends courtesy of  the axe-handed hillbillies.

If you think of this movie as a slasher movie for people who can’t stand the sub-genre, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  The film’s primary conceit is that the characters who would normally be depicted as the antagonists in a “Friday the 13th” sequel – the conspirational, untrustworthy rednecks – are the heroes whose naivety and unwordly nature contrive to give them the appearance of grisly serial killers.

It’s hard not to think that Jason Voorhees and Victor Crowley (of the “Hatchet” series) would have done better to adopt a similar approach and allow the drunk, dope-smoking, pre-marital sex-having teens of their respective series to behave with such forehead-slapping stupidity and hasten their own demises.  Crystal Lake’s favourite son could put his mask up, chill out in a lounger and never have to unsheath his machete again.

Performances are universally wonderful, with Tudyk and Labine endearingly hilarious as guys utterly bewildered by what fate is flinging at them – it’s a treat to see these perenial supporting players given the chance to lead a film and the college kids are equally fun.  “30 Rock” siren Katrina Bowden gets to do more than totter around in tiny outfits for a change and Jesse Moss makes for a splendidly hateful antagonist in Chad, the frat bro with a dark family secret he’s not aware of.

My horror-averse wife enjoyed this film tremendously, despite the free-flowing gore and dismemberment on display, which may give those of you with scare-phobic spouses another film to add to your Halloween movie countdown.  It’s certainly worth your time.