Hot Fuzz (2007)

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In the grand tradition of send-ups like Naked Gun, Tropic Thunder and Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, this goofy UK film tears apart movie stereotypes and cliches while providing relatively harmless laughs. It bears no relation to reality and exists solely as distraction but serves an important role in revealing movie tropes for the empty and implausible scenarios they are.

As in most good films, it begins with hyperbole and descends into satire. A super-cop from the city moves to a small town where he finds that mysterious deaths are going unreported. He investigates and finds a dark secret to this idyllic and seemingly useless place. Because of his inner conviction that law and order is important, he takes on the bad guys with impossible odds against him. Since this is a family film, there are no major surprises in the plot, and the filmmakers focused on texture instead. Like most films of this genre, internal plot features are repeated in different contexts to achieve both continuity and contrast. Characters, while one-dimensional, also exist as people with relatively complex motivations formed from a balance of self-interest and goodwill. What initially seem like simply stereotypes expand to show the reasons behind the behavior, reducing the implied mindlessness of lifestyle choices. This allows the filmmakers to mutilate, spindle and destroy those roles and bring out the absurdity of our time.

Comedy cannot be bloodless. In this film, the prime targets are the vast hypocrisy of a society that, like the idyllic town in this film, has given up on finding reason for its actions. It operates on rote, driven by money and obedient to mindless rules, and these two behaviors get the most ire. Throughout the movie, classic movie moments are revisited and destroyed with mockery. Characters twist and erode their own character types of the type one might expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. Through it all, the film manages to make its characters likeable by showing them as relatively simple people working on simple rules that they have found generally guide them to the right places in a world that is chaotic and beyond control. While no surprises or great profundity come from Hot Fuzz, what makes it powerful is that in the process of satirizing a situation, and then movies themselves, it also mocks the absurdity of our current era and the uselessness of people within it. Like all good comedy, this approach results in well-needed laughs and increasing cynicism toward “the way things are always done around here.”

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Housebound (2014)

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Combining comedy with horror takes a deft touch or the result rapidly veers into the leering variety show that Hollywood has adored since its earliest days but that strikes an audience with deep existential dread rooted in unacknowledged devastating boredom. A film can either be a horror film with a sense of humor, or a comedy wearing the mantle of horror, but few can do both.

Housebound reverses the direction in which even movies like Evil Dead (1981) venture, which is the “self-aware” movie in the postmodern style, or a movie which is ironically funny as part of its ineptitude or uncertainty about its primary mission. It might make more sense to refer to the 2014 movie as “suspense comedy” because it does not evoke horror so much as a sense of something large and important being wrong underneath the veneer of normalcy which we call “normal life” and as a species use to bury our doubts, fears and existential confusion. Housebound is a very funny movie, once the viewer gets accustomed to the method in which it delivers its humor, which is mostly situational and character-based but relies on a strong sense of the absurd and thus requires the viewer, like the protagonist in a horror film, to be a realist among the herd of denialist sheep.

The movie begins with plot-as-setting: a young woman, troubled in her relationship to drugs and crime, runs into a sadistic judge who assigns her not to jail but to a sentence back where the problem began, namely her childhood home. This in turn puts her into confrontation with her mother who exists in mental orbit most of the time, and a stepfather who seems to have no ability to change anything that happens in his life. While they live in uncertainty and loathing for each other, events that appear to be supernatural in origin begin to appear, and all react with skepticism until the pervasive intrusion within their lives can no longer be denied. At this point, the plot ramps up with a delicious lack of concern for human life and “feelings.” Like most good comedies, the characters are situationally accurate but take on a larger than life aspect in order to drive forward a plot that requires people to react like unstable chemical compounds. Sympathetic portrayals of even the pathetic give this movie somewhat of an extra grace, and while it is not always believable, its mockery of the head-in-the-sand of normal human existence makes it an enjoyable watch.

“Suspense comedy” might describe this film better than anything related to horror, since the aspect of horror that lives on is a pejorative realism toward human adaptive behaviors, and although there are moments of fear and terror the real drive of this film is satire of the wretched and absurd nature of human existence. As a result, it makes no sense to endorse this as a horror film, but more to say it is a comedy set in a horror backdrop which may win over its audience from the similar ways to horror films with which it treats humanity and its sacred cows. In addition, once it gains momentum (and the audience adapts to the New Zealand accent), Housebound provides a compelling character drama within an existence as nonsensical as actual reality, only more clearly revealed as such by the humorous events which it contains.

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Death Metal Zombies (1995)

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Death Metal Zombies
Horrorscope Productions, 1995. 90 minutes.
Unrated

Those of the death metal persuasion tend to value content over surface. This idea emerges from the basic thought of metal: beauty in darkness through structure, social appearance be damned. As such, the death metal audience tends to ignore the differences that millions of dollars of production bring, and focus on the content of a movie.

Death Metal Zombies is (mostly) such a movie. Its entertainment value matches that of films with much larger budget and media support. However, it is a bit of a mess. Filmed on video cameras in the exburbs of Houston, Texas it features continuity mistakes, sometimes amateurish camera work, and of course non-professional actors, so much so that the directors released an anniversary cut a decade later that halved the film length and re-arranged it to make more sense. This was clearly a project in which people learned their craft, and starts with the almost assuredly marijuana-inspired concept that a cassette tape can contain musical programming to turn people into zombies. However, we have all seen films with far dumber premises that made it out of major studios. Gone Girl, The Expendables, Avengers and Star Trek: Into Darkness come to mind as multimillion dollar tributes to idiocy.

The basic idea of this film is that people in the dead-end middle class outer suburbs of a flat, humid and boring major city (which was nowhere on the news in 1995) have little to live for except death metal, and they find a way to hook up with a “special” tape from their favorite band, Living Corpse. This tape contains thirteen minutes of sonic programming that transform them into zombies who promptly return to their normal lives and act out the fantasies of death, gore and retribution that do not fit into the modern world. This review focuses on the original film, not the edit, which has its charm in that despite some filmmaking ineptitude and a possibly ill-advised metal-centric plot, it captures the lives of its filmmakers and actors and amplifies that experience to a supernatural level. It works perfectly in a post-modern sense as not the focal point of an evening, but a topic of commentary, where the real movie is more the conjecture about it and experience of criticizing it than what is on the screen.

The above-average viewer will spend much of this film wondering what exactly is going on. The filmmakers burn through too much tape setting up scenes, and not enough showing action, which makes viewers wonder what to focus on. This is balanced by relatively strong action scenes with creative (and copious but not overblown) gore, quality violence and a genuinely menacing atmosphere. Were I some kind of film critic, I would loathe this because it insults every pretense of that profession, but as a lifelong media hater who finds most movies to be inane, I see this film as less inane although less technically gifted than your average Hollywood flick. In particular, characters are believable, situations are believable, and the plot — once you get past the somewhat handicapped device — moves forward enough to compel an urge to witness its conclusion.

In addition, there is a death metal angle: Relapse Records allowed use of what looks like its full catalog, so bands as diverse as Incantation, Pyogenesis, Winter, Disembowelment and Brutality play in the background in scenes that are half-MTV and the rest a zombie film designed to be watched through a bong while chatting with friends. The music angle in both plot and background is not meant to be convincing, but enjoyable, and seeing familiar tropes from death metal bands in the characters, as well as having what was probably the only “real” chance death metal had at having videos back in the day is gratifying. There is no way to construe this film as competitive with professional efforts, but the grim fact is that it is arguably less dumb and more compelling than what the big studios dump arrogantly on our numbed brains.

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