While it's not unusual for a critic to find cultural resonance in B- and C-grade horror pictures (critics have been doing that for generations, often with an unearned swagger that pretends Pauline Kael's "Trash, Art and the Movies" never happened) it is unusual to see one do a full-Kael press and defend such works as, first and foremost, good movies. Yet that's what Fort Worth Star-Telegram film critic Christopher Kelly does in "Don't Expect to Escape Nightmares with a Smile on Your Face." Surveying the recent crop of glossy splatterflicks, Kelly starts with a proclamation that had me saying, out loud, to no one in particular, "You've got to be kidding me."
"The most gruesomely vivid, elegantly made horror movie in recent memory opened with little fanfare on Dec. 25, 2005 in approximately 1,500 theaters nationwide," Kelly wrote. "Titled 'Wolf Creek,' It's a low-budget shocker from 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' old school, about three carefree twentysomethings whose hiking trip goes terribly awry after they are kidnapped by a maniacal serial killer in the Aussie outback. As is often the case with horror pictures, it was greeted by many critics like a Christmas present wrapped in soiled tissue paper. (Sample review, from Roger Ebert: 'There is a role for violence in film, but what the hell is the purpose of this sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty?') The fact that the movie announced the arrival of an immensely gifted new director named Greg McLean—whose patience, control and ability to play the audience like a very cheap fiddle would have done Alfred Hitchcock proud—seemed lost on most adult moviegoers."
In their link to the piece, Green Cine Daily described Kelly as throwing down a gauntlet, but that's an understatement; Kelly throws down two gauntlets, a ring-mail vest, a cat-o-nine tails and a halberd, then dares you not to join his dungeon party. He also has good things to say about "Hostel" and "Final Destination 3," and ties them to 30-plus years' worth of now-canonical (or at least noteworthy) shockers, including "Straw Dogs" and the original "Assault on Precinct 13" and "I Spit on Your Grave."
Intrigued, I wrote Kelly at the Star-Telegram and asked if he wanted to stop by The House Next Door this weekend and discuss and/or defend this piece in the comments section of this post. To my surprise, he agreed without hesitation. So let's play it this way: read Kelly's piece (linked above), post a comment or question, and he'll respond as necessary. We'll keep the thread going today and tomorrow and see what develops. Please remember three things, though. First, Kelly's my guest, so if you disagree, attack the piece rather than the writer (I hate being forced to moderate comments). Second, bear in mind that if you feel Kelly didn't cite specific enough examples to back up his claims about the filmmaking, it's not because he doesn't have any, it's because he writes for a major daily newspaper rather than, say, Cineaste, and can't always go as deep as he might wish; hopefully this comments thread will allow him to explain himself in more detail. Third, if you like what the man has to say, by all means, show him some love. There aren't many people hiking on this particular trail.