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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Three: Veteran's Day

They say that war is hell, and hell is certainly familiar territory for the horror genre. Therefore, it's pretty easy to see that war would provide a perfect backdrop for some genuinely terrifying cinema. Truth be told, there are quite a few horrifying war films which are technically not actual horror films. War is horrible enough, in and of itself.

That said, there have been a number of powerful horror films revolving around the subject, and we here in the Vault and over at Brutal as Hell decided that in honor of Veteran's Day, we'd devote this week's Lucky 13 edition to just a few of them. So read on, and please make sure to thank a veteran, if you haven't already done so. In their efforts to protect us and all we hold dear, they faced down horrors far worse than anything seen in the movies...

B-Sol on Pan's Labyrinth (2006)...

There may be no greater visionary working in cinema today than Guillermo Del Toro, and Pan's Labyrinth was quite possibly his finest hour. It is a visual feast--a twisted, nightmarish look at childhood, seen against the backdrop of Fascist Spain during World War II. This is a film of great power, a visceral experience in a very real sense.

I've always been fascinated by fantasy and dark fairy tales. The origins of the Brothers Grimm stories in particular have always held a certain allure. And quite simply, Pan's Labyrinth is a potent distillation of that whole vibe, brought to life as only someone with the talent of a Del Toro could've ever done.

And through it all, what impresses me the most is the way in which such a bizarre, supernatural narrative could be so successfully juxtaposed with the very real setting in which our young protagonist finds herself. There is perhaps no monster in the film more terrifying than her own sadistic and brutal father, a cold and calculating captain in the Spanish army. The horrors of war are contrasted intriguingly with the horrors of a totally unearthly realm, and it makes for some unforgettable viewing.

Pan's Labyrinth is the kind of film that reminds us that as terrified as we may be of the unknown, there is perhaps nothing worse than the horrors of the familiar, and of the real. It is a treat for the senses, and my personal favorite horror film dealing with the subject of war.

Joe Monster of From Beyond Depraved on Deathdream (1974)...

War is hell, as they say. And sometimes that hell can invade the peace of the home and hearth. Such was the story of Andy Brooks, the main character in director Bob Clark’s fourth feature film Deathdream. Having previously tickled our morbid spines with 1972’s ghoulish Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Clark takes us down a completely different and dark road with this tale of battle scars that never heal.

When Andy returns home from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, he’s not at all well. In fact, his father and sister were originally told that Andy had died in combat, so his appearance back home is peculiar to say the least. Dedicated fans of the horror genre could probably tell where the narrative is about to go at this point, but the film nevertheless manages to chill in its depiction of Andy’s terrifying transformation. The veteran soldier covers up his body from the sunlight with turtlenecks and gloves… and has an insatiable thirst for blood. He has become, for all intents and purposes, a vampire.

Deathdream though, much like George Romero’s Martin from the same decade, deals with the complex psychological implications of carrying a “curse” instead of focusing on the supernatural aesthetics of the scenario. Andy’s transgression into a walking nightmare provides moments in the film that are fraught with tension and dread. Clark lets us know that he isn’t messing around, starting right from the moment Andy brutally crushes the family dog in a chillingly inhuman manner. Like he was in combat, Andy cannot stop his killer instincts from getting the better of him as more and more people meet death at his hands.

It’s a potent metaphor for the tragic state in which some troops have been known to suffer from upon their return to their countries. Clark’s masterful direction of the story allows him to breathe life into this metaphor, and it never once becomes heavy-handed. It remains heart-wrenching up until the very end, with a climax in which Andy’s mother weeps over the living, rotting corpse of what was once her son as it desperately tries to dig itself back into its grave. It’s a moment that truly has to rank amongst one of the saddest scenes in horror history. And it’s on this grim note that Clark reminds us that, sometimes, life too can be hell.

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Join us next week for The Lucky 13, when we give thanks for our favorite Turkey Day horror flicks...

Week 1: Halloween
Week 2: Man vs. Nature

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