Thursday, October 7, 2010

Staunton Hill

Did you know George Romero's son made a movie? Yeah, I didn't even know he had a son, but good christ there's STAUNTON HILL on the instant view Netflix.

SPOILER: I didn't actually watch the entire movie. There's actually a good reason for that. For FORTY-FIVE MINUTES, nothing happens. The movie doesn't even give the obligatory "opening kill" shot, just some pointless scenes of a girl in an operating room layered with creepy pig noises that I guess is supposed to make me all HMM INTERESTING but just reminded me of the fact that virtually every modern slashers contains these stupid overedited shots. So, after the movie decided what I really needed was a BREAKFAST SCENE that lasted for over ten minutes, I just used netflix's handy multiple thumbnail feature to find the actual kill scenes.

Staunton Hill has been widely described as a basic Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff, and while I normally bristle at the term rip-off, it's perfectly apt for this disgrace. Hell, now that I think about it, maybe Romero the Younger wanted to emulate Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the point of not getting any kills until the second half. The difference between the films is that I could stand watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre because of the pervasive sense of unease, whether intentional or not (considering Hooper's general output, probably a combination of the two), within the filming. You know bad things are going to happen to the characters in both films, but in TCM you're actively dreading the moment that Leatherface pops out of the metal door, while in Staunton Hill you can't fucking wait for these horrible people to stop talking.

Both films' plots revolve around counterculture kids getting into bad situations. In Staunton Hill, you have five hippies in rural Virginia planning to go to a rally in Washington. They end up hitching a ride with a dude they meet, but then his truck breaks down and they decide to camp out at a nearby farm that they soon find out is inhabited by a crazy religious grandmother, her generally crazy fat daughter, and a Leatherface. People die, and there's bizarre attempts at themes that exist for a scene and are then ignored (a racist junkyard owner doesn't like the one black hippie who talks about Black Panthers, something about medicine and christianity), and then a really obvious twist that really sealed the deal on the whole TCM problem. SPOILER BELOW (highlight to read):

Those that watched TCM might remember that the Leatherface clan included an exciteable crazy son, and an apparently normal guy who lived away from the actual clan house. When he meet the racist junkyard guy and the truck man, my horror sense went a tingle-jingle, but I refused to believe it. Seriously, the director couldn't be planning a twist where both of these people are actually related to the crazy farm family. That's just too lazy and obvious, I thought.

Then when everyone reaches the farm, there was a scene where the truck driver talks to someone off-screen, saying "they're looking around the farm now." I wasn't sure what to make of this, and had to rewind it to figure out if it was some sort of editing error, but nope, they're just making it really obvious that NOT ALL IS AS IT SEEMS. This wouldn't be a problem, except the film then somehow expects the audience to forget that this scene existed, as nothing is really alluded to this aspect of the guy's character, and just keeps interacting with the cast until the ending where it's revealed...HE IS THE SON OF THE CRAZY FAMILY. whoaaaa. whoaaaaaa. And also the junkyard guy is also in on it. Aaaaah.

Let me put this another way. Revealing to the audience a secret that isn't known to the characters isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It can add tension, showing scenes where you realize that the characters are in terrible danger and just don't know it. But you can't just go "oh the truck driver clearly has a secret," proceed as if nothing really happened for fifty minutes, then go OH MAN HE'S THE SON GOT YOU GOT YOU. Either acknowledge that the surprise is spoiled, or just don't mention it.

Everything about the movie is forgetable. Edits are awful, featuring lots of classic "conversations clearly filmed during three time periods." The hippies are unlikeable both in acting and writing, and the only really interesting person is the crazy mother, who played that one fat woman in the trailer in the TCM remake (GODDAMNIT SERIOUSLY), so you naturally have to root for the bad guys. Apparently not realizing that, Son Romero slathers the hippies in bathos, like weird tracking shots of a skinned girl over sad music, or focusing on (spoiler I guess) the black guy crying really badly when seeing his girlfriend getting scalped.

Maybe Son Romero is capable of good films. The best you can hope for modern slashers these days are self-obsessed horror fans blowing their wads at technical quality (and to be fair to Staunton Hill, there is some decent non-cgi gore), so it's not a good place to start. Maybe he could try a zombie movie or hahahahaha

POST DEATH (ehehehehe): So, as mentioned above, the setting is explicitly in Virginia. Always being curious when a film actually tries to set itself in a real place that I might've been to, I tried to figure out exactly where the Lame Squad was. At first I thought it might've been around Staunton, due to the title and that it's basically on the way to DC, but turns out the screenwriter was totally full of shit.

Basically, while the truck is out and everyone is trying to explain what to do, they mention two highways, one being highway 193 and some other that I would have to try to find again, and that these roads would eventually lead to bethesda. For those who don't j/o on google maps, bethesda is in maryland, and north of DC and all of virginia. Put another way, the screenwriter clearly has no idea what he's talking about (or I might be horribly wrong, and welcome a correction).

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