Thursday, July 10, 2008


Eventually, I'm going to talk about the French horror film, INSIDE. I'm also going to tell you how it ends, partly because I want to ruin it for you. By the time you get there, you'll understand why.

I have an enormous problem with the spate of "torture horror" films these days. I'm referring to films where the horror is all too human and the violence, which tends to be prodigious, isn't borne of a voodoo curse or an alien's genetic imperative to lay eggs in your butt. It's just sadism. The HOSTEL films, THEM (2007), THE STRANGERS, VACANCY, P2, CAPTIVITY, TURISTAS, remakes of PROM NIGHT, THE HITCHER, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS...yadda yadda yadda. I find these films to be at best creatively lazy and at worst culturally damaging.

The evil that men do is not entertainment. If it was, we'd have a CSPAN for Darfur by now that would make American Idol look like a cable access hog report. Horror movies are supposed to be a break from reality. In order for us to suspend our disbelief, give us something to disbelieve in. Give us a MONSTER! And don't feel that you need to hold back, either. The ghost of a cremated pedophile? I'm intrigued. A demonic, self-mutilating leather daddy and his carpool buddies from hell? Do go on. You don't even have to work that hard. Did any of you see CREEP (2005)? It's in that same awry-experiment mutant genre as THE HILLS HAVE EYES, only the writer/director assumed that his audience had an I.Q. above room temperature. That's really all it takes. And then, to keep us on our toes, every once in a blue moon, lightly pepper in a believable sociopath. A Hannibal Lechter. A Henry. The AntiDundee from WOLF CREEK, even. But make them the exceptions, not the rule. Give our psyches some time to heal over before you squirt lemon all over them again by reminding us how scary the world is.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking.

"But Baron, isn't man truly the biggest monster of them all?"

Please know that your half-baked, freshman philosophy class nihilism is causing me actual, physical pain. You want to vilify the human condition, Moonbeam? Go watch SCHINDLER'S LIST. There's a reason that horror and sci-fi and fantasy share space in convention halls as well as in the hearts of nerds worldwide: it's all about fracking make-believe. When a movie is just about violence and sadism, that makes it too real - even if the story framed around it happens to be fiction. It takes so little effort to push that same violence into the realm of fantasy. The killers were dead but now they're only sorta dead. See? See how easy?

I'm assuming, of course, that we can all agree that movies are meant to entertain. They're meant to add to our lives in some way, even if it's just a 90 minute vacation from hearing about war and inflation and celebrity babies. In a perfect scenario, horror movies are a catharsis, allowing us to get our adrenaline pumping, scream and blow off the steam of a stressful world by rooting for the heroes and, even subconsciously, feeling just a wee bit happier that we don't live in a world where the full moon is evil and brains are delicious.

Torture horror films do not do this. They make us feel worse about the world. Their message is loud and clear: you're fucked. You don't have to go into the basement when the electricity is out. You don't have to read a passage from a book bound in human skin. You don't have to have unprotected teen sex on the grave of a drowned retard in the pet cemetery next to the nuclear power plant in order for unspeakable things to happen to you. All you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What? Don't tell me that. That's not what I want to leave the theater thinking. That's just mean. I paid ten bucks for you to show me this? You dick!

Which brings me to INSIDE.

Written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, INSIDE is the most relentless example of torture horror that has ever glued my eyes open in shock and awe. In a nutshell, a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy is trapped in her home and stalked by a scissor wielding madwoman that is dead set on a decidedly unscheduled C-section. Everyone that enters the house that night - and for a place out in the boonies, it's surprisingly populated - ends up savagely and spectacularly eviscerated. Nothing is left to the imagination. Gore guh-gore gore GORE! Fast forward, crazy lady is in a rocking chair, cradling a blood soaked and possibly dead newborn, as the camera pans over mommy, torn open and spilling down the stairs like a wet, meaty piñata. Roll credits.

As a lover of film, INSIDE tears me. I want so badly to hate it and yet it's brilliantly done. It truly is. The acting, the directing, the editing - brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. INSIDE's short 84 minutes is packed - there's barely room for you to blink, so peeing or making a sandwich is out of the question. Absolutely riveting, there's no point in denying it. And yet, the story that was inside Bustillo and Maury busting to get out is about a psycho scissor sister that carves up a battered and bloodied pregnant widow like an Easter ham. Ironically, you'd have to view INSIDE in its entirety (in other words, don't rent it from Blockbuster) to appreciate the depth of depravity committed to the story here. This is neither the product of nor the fodder for healthy minds.

Nine weeks after INSIDE's US video release, a 23 year old woman in Kennewick, WA, tortured a 27 year old mother-to-be and cut her full term baby from her womb.

It's true.

I was still feeling violated from watching INSIDE so this news hit me like a lead pipe. Coincidence? Cause and effect? Life imitating art? I cannot say. But I can say that when I seek out the vicarious thrills of a horror movie, this is exactly the type of world that I'm trying to escape from.