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DarkEcho Horror Death by Rick Berry
The DarkEcho Files

"HAND ME THAT CELL PHONE, MORRIE, I SPOT A TREND!"

For more than six years Paula Guran published -- in email form on a weekly basis -- an eccentric newsletter for horror writers and others. This commentary came from it.

DarkEcho
01.27.00
V.7 #2

At this time last year we were beginning to hear the earliest whispers of what would become the deafening roar of hype about a little indie movie, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, at the Sundance Film Festival

I come neither to praise BLAIR, nor bury it -- merely to note that we literary types always hope that hype for cinematic horror will translate into some sort of expanded opportunities in publishing. Not that I am at all sure this works. Still, interest in horror film does reflect a public awareness and demand for horror per se...

So, what's the horror hype coming out of Park City, Utah this year? (The festival began there 20 Jan and runs through 30 Jan.) Major premieres include two literary adaptations. Number one buzzer is Christian Bale running amok in AMERICAN PSYCHO, Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' notorious novel. (Also featuring Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, and current indie chic chick Chloe Sevigny.) Then there's Michael Almereyda's modern version of HAMLET with Ethan Hawke as a Noo Yawk Y2K alienated angst-ridden corporate prince. Instead of Denmark, his kingdom is a multinational corporation. The movie is all eerie and moody. (Kyle MacLachlan is Claudius, Sam Shepard is Hamlet's dad's ghost who disappears into a Pepsi dispenser, Bill Murray is Polonius.)

What? You won't accept HAMLET as horror? Well, that's not the debate, but hey, is AMERICAN PSYCHO? Officially described in Sundance material as a "darkly sly, tongue-in-cheek lash at nefarious eighties materialism and corporate-clone culture. New Wave music, cocaine, and five-pound cell phones take a bow in this slick horror adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's controversial novel. Harron's AMERICAN PSYCHO is a satirically sinister riff on the depravity of the Reagan years and that class of soulless Wall Street executives Tom Wolfe dubbed the 'masters of the universe.'"

Evidently Harron's vision is not being completely accepted by reviewers, but her AMERICAN PSYCHO is still generating plenty of talk. Another point of interest: According to Harron the film's biggest fans at Sundance are women. "Women are really liking it. And I can see why. To me, the novel and film are such a critique of this alpha-male behavior, and not just that, but of the world of the extremely successful that excludes women." Cleveland Plain Dealer critic Joanna Connors affirms Harron's feeling:: "It's true...the reaction...seems to be divided along gender lines. Women, for the most part, find the film disturbing, but love the scathing satire, while men tend to be merely disturbed by it...'Who would have thought?' said Harron smiling, 'AMERICAN PSYCHO is turning out to be a woman's picture.' "

Hmmm.

But the REAL hot stuff comes from the Festival's after-hours Park City at Midnight series where the hit of last year's series was the world premiere of ...yeah, that witch project thingie. No doubt just dying to be the break-out indie hit this year is PSYCHO BEACH PARTY directed by Robert Lee King. Based on the play by writer/ playwright/ diva Charles Busch, best known for theatrical delights like VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM and DIE MOMMIE DIE! PSYCHO BEACH PARTY blends beach movies and Alfred Hitchcockian suspense into a psychotronic surf romp. Severed limbs, well-stuffed bikinis, muscled hunks and quadruple entendre rock on as Captain Monica Stark investigates some gory Malibu murders. It's GIDGET GOES FERAL -- what more could you want?

Okay, for you traditionalists, there's another Park City at Midnight movie -- THE CONVENT, directed by Mike Mendez. (Mendez's earlier film, THE KILLERS, played the 1997 Festival). You know the score here: the spooky deserted convent is a place nobody should go (40 years ago a very bad girl blew away the nuns with a sawed-off shotgun and then burned the place down) -- so naturally a group of college kids go there so we can watch a blood-soaked frenzied assault of terror and death. "Mixing elements of camp humor and over-the-top horror," says the official program guide, "[Mendez] takes the concept of excess and blows it up in your face." Not to mention the cast includes Adrienne Barbeau and Coolio.

Just a couple more mentions from the dark counter-cultural side: BEAT, directed by Gary Walkow and starring Courtney Love and Kiefer Sutherland is the story of Joan Burroughs's death in 1951 from a gunshot wound delivered by her eventually-legendary beat -immortal junkie husband William Burroughs. Julian Temple's THE FILTH AND THE FURY is a documentary exploring punk icons The Sex Pistols and their era.

What else? Short subjects -- once only lab-exercises to show off one's talent so maybe one could break into feature films -- are being gobbled up by dotcoms to be distributed over the Internet and through other new channels including theaters, airplanes and on television. The Festival also includes seminars on distributing or marketing films over the Net and a showcasing of new entertainment technology.

And, of course, completely without irony is the prominent slick ad for Dewar's Scotch in the festival's program featuring the creators of... that witch thing. Last year they were unkempt nobodies with nothing but past-due notices and an unknown film. Today they are artfully groomed and schlepping scotch.

Doncha love it? Sundance is more Hollywood than Hollywood.


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