Your Halloweekend at the Movies

10/29/2010 10:18 AM |

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Saw 3-D: Though its grimy torture-porn aesthetic will always be rooted in the peculiarities of the mid-aughts, the Saw series is nonetheless the most retro horror franchise going at the moment: low-budget exploitation movies cranked out once a year, with unapologetically cheesy Roman numerals affixed to each successive sequel; no Curse of the Black Pearl- or The Last Stand-style subtitles for Jigsaw, the serial killer who actually died way back in Saw III but lives on through flashbacks and an endless archive of blueprints for horrible traps. Like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, this series has started to peter out as it approaches double digits; Saw VI was by far the lowest-grossing so far, although still probably a decent profit stream for Lionsgate. So the Saw folks have doubled down on a time-tested 80s-style gimmick used by both Jason (in Part III) and Freddy (in Part VI), now in the midst of a high-tech resurgence (or, as we’d like to pretend, backlash): 3-D, savior of the moribund franchise! Although they’ve rocketed past the point of being able to have Saw 3-D be the actual third movie in the franchise, it’s nonetheless the next logical step in goosing those declining grosses. Pun possibly intended!

I have actually seen every single Saw movie and so I will also check out this allegedly final chapter, hoping that it’s at least as ok as Saw VI, which was a few steps up from IV and V (Jigsaw: in favor of health insurance regulations! A murderer we can believe in!). I’m actually curious to see how the filmmakers see fit to tie everything together, as unlike its 80s brethren, the Saw series has some of the most convoluted and tangled-up plotting this side of a soap opera, retains the same (mostly interchangeable) actors from movie to movie, has a deranged faith its own continuity, and takes place over a similarly decompressed period of time. I just spent twenty minutes skimming the Wikipedia recap that arranges the events of the films, comic, and videogame chronologically, and I’ve also seen all of these movies, yet I still find myself confused about, for example, which of the sixteen cop characters have been revealed as crooked, killed by Jigsaw, served as Jigsaw’s apprentice, framed as Jigsaw, recovered Jigsaw’s stolen bicycle, or mentored a teenage Jigsaw in a Summer Torture Porn program.

A big minus for the series has been the ongoing presence of the charismaless Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), the de facto main character since Jigsaw bit the dust and only appears in flashbacks. Hoffman is a sort of nouveau-Jigsaw who, like every apprentice Jigsaw has ever employed, kind of doesn’t get how to be the best Jigsaw he can be. Admittedly, this is because Jigsaw has pretty stringent rules for someone who traps people into torturing the living bejesus out of themselves. Apparently we last left Hoffman mutilated but not dead (sort of like the Saw series after Paranormal Activity! Hey-o!) and I pray to whatever cold-hearted entity that allows Saw movies to exist that Jigsaw is revealed to have a twin brother, so Tobin Bell, the most consistently compelling actor in this franchise no matter how dead his character has been for the majority of it, can dispatch with Mandylor once and for all, in the off chance that 3-D revenues buy us a Saw VIII, IX, and X (in space! Please in space!). Either that, or the entire series will be revealed to take place during the lunch break of another, better horror series.

Monsters: If you don’t like rusty bear traps for Halloween, well, Monsters doesn’t sound much more Halloween-y, sounding a bit like a more sci-fi-ish 28 Days Later, with survivors of an alien invasion/infection wandering the ruined landscapes of Earth and eluding giant tentacles. So it doesn’t sound classically Halloween-ready, but it does sound pretty awesome, and it’s available in movie theaters, On Demand, and via iTunes. The latter seems like weird ways to watch a new movie, especially one that might have good cinematography, but what do I know, I’m old.

Welcome to the Rileys: It is a starlet rite of passage to play a complicated stripper (especially if she’s one of those movie strippers who doesn’t actually strip), so Kristen Stewart must comply. This indie does seem more likely to contain a good K-Stew performance like Adventureland or The Runaways, the main difference being whether she’s twitching over real life or an empty-eyed vampire. Screenwriter Ken Hixon specializes in this sort of earnest-sounding family drama; I sort of liked his City by the Sea; not so much his Inventing the Abbotts.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: I haven’t seen any of these movies or read the books, but is David Fincher really going to make all three of the English-language remakes? One, fine, whatever, but three seems like it would take up a lot of time, right? Not having much experience with this material apart from reading stuff about how it’s overrated and/or “problematic,” the best thing about it seems like the catchy sequel titling. It must take all of producers’ willpower not to retitle the American productions stuff like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Playing with Fire or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rising: Curse of the Hornet’s Nest.

Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields: I saw the Magnetic Fields in concert for the first time earlier this year, and the chamber-of-awkwardness vibe is not one I’m eager to repeat in a movie theater. Don’t get me wrong, they sounded fine, but the dry, borderline-snoozy delivery mixed with a muted, faux-playful hostility between Merritt and sidekick Claudia Gonson made the whole thing kind of uncomfortable, and most rock documentaries, even ones I like, tend to come off as big-fans-only enterprises. If I was only mildly pleased with the documentary about They Might Be Giants, Magnetic Fields don’t have much of a chance.