Abattoir Blues #5 – Netflix horror, Val Kilmer style
The Traveler (2010)
Hair: Peak Fabio
We’ll start with the one set at Christmas, because I can’t afford to not pander. This one starts promisingly enough, as a girl who’s out walking her cat – which she’s named ‘Shining’ – is quite rightly immediately abducted. The premise – weirdo confesses to murders that haven’t actually happened yet – is decent too, even if it IS essentially the last act of Seven, plus voodoo.
Thing is, Val’s ghoul is so defiantly unscary that even though 50% of his dialogue is just him whistling a handful of bars from my official Best Horror Movie Music Ever (Mozart’s Requiem, natch), it’s STILL like watching a hungover bear look for his keys. He’s kind of channelling both latter-day Vincent Price and Bazalel’s Golem via his patented Most Generic Voice in America, while sporting what would have been the Most Generic Haircut in America if this was 1999 and Val was a blonde teenage girl. Which, to be fair, a person called Val usually would be.
That said, it’s weirdly charming, and worth watching just for a scene in which someone is literally dug in half by an invisible ghost.
Exactly as Good As: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Hair: Pencil-thin ponytail – the CEO of a company selling books about holistic medicine in 1987.
I’ve been itching to see this for ages, mostly because I heard it was conceived by Francis Ford Copolla after he got so blasted on Raki in Istanbul that he started seeing ghosts. He also hired my favourite electro-oddball Dan Deacon to do the soundtrack (which is great, as it happens), a move guaranteed to make me overlook reviews that described it as “close to unwatchable.”
Here’s the thing. Twixt makes no sense. I’m not totally convinced that it was ever meant to. But it’s full of neat little elements that make it inherently loveable. Kilmer, for example, is great fun as a tetchy Stephen King clone who, for little-to-no discernible reason, at one point has a Skype conversation with his actual ex-wife Joanne Whaley and does a fantastic impression of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. It’s also full of beautiful Wes-Anderson style portmanteaus, by which I mean hi-res shots of people sitting down surrounded by lots of books in autumnal colours. Not to mention the one, totally inexplicable explosion of extreme gore, Elle Fanning amazingly am-dram ghost makeup, and the moving references to Copolla’s son Gio, killed in an accident in 1986 at 22, who’s credited as “creative associate.”
Exactly as Good, Coherent and Unhinged as: Wake Wood
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Hair: So good, it can only be compensating for a terrible accent.
This one. This one here. This is exactly why we internet people do these kind of pieces. This is what Netflix is great for.
Because this is a basically unheard of film in which Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas team up to hunt a pair of evil murderous LIONS. It is a real thing that exists and is somehow not on the syllabus.
In a story based on actual events, Kilmer plays “soldier, hunter, author and Zionist” John Henry Patterson, who heads down to Kenya to help a bridge-building camp with their lion problem and impresses everyone by shooting a lion in the face and only managing to do his accent (Irish) once for every ten minutes of screentime. But then two more lions show up, and they’re BIGGER and SCARIER, so Michael Douglas, playing Wint from Jaws presumably pre-USS Indianapolis, is brought in to help him murder them both, a task at which they both prove spectacularly incompetent.
In real life, records say that the lions, who were girls because that’s how lions work, killed 35 people (a figure that doesn’t include the ones they didn’t eat, or any of the African natives working on the site – stay classy, British Empire. OH WHAT YOU CAN’T ANY MORE, PSYCH). In the film, there are scenes that deliberately suggest that the lions, who are now boys (@EverydaySexism), were Actually Evil, including one where Val and Mike find a cave entirely filled with bones (“A normal lion wouldn’t do THIS”) and another when a lion appears to lock some people in a cage and then watches, like a PSYCHO would, as they burn to death. Might be making this up, but I think it did a big satisfied nod before wandering off.
As is the way for every big expensive two-to-three-star adventure movie made in the mid-to-late nineties, The Ghost and the Darkness is quite, quite mad. Take, for instance, the dream sequence in which Val watches helplessly as his wife (Emily Mortimer) stands still, waves and says “Hello!” over and over for what must be nearly five minutes before being pounced on and hastily devoured. Or a massacre in a hospital, wherein our big furry heroes murder about thirty people in the time it takes for a tent to collapse. Or, BEST OF ALL, the bit when Val and Mike somehow predict a cultural phenomenon which wouldn’t take hold for another decade:
“Have you ever failed?”
“Only at life.”
Exactly as Good and as 90s as: The Man in the Iron Mask