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Frightening

Focusing on horror films: The Eye and Freddy Vs. Jason.

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The Asian import The Eye is a ghost story that relies more on true cinema --in this case, a carefully constructed sound design and effective shock cinematography and editing --than high-tech gimmickry. This aptitude and affinity for low-tech scares is apparent from moment one: spooky opening-credit images that seem to be nothing more than hands poking against a white sheet. In this manner, as well as its generally quiet and reflective tone, The Eye has more in common with recent horror hits 28 Days Later and The Blair Witch Project than with most contemporary Hollywood scare fare.

The product of twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang, whose own Hong Kong-to-Bangkok journey is mirrored within the film itself, The Eye is the latest Asian horror film --following Ring --to get the Hollywood treatment, with a remake in the works from Tom Cruise's production company.

The film centers on a young blind woman, Mun (Lee Sin-Jee), who is in the hospital recovering from a cornea graft meant to restore her eyesight. As is typically the case with the "transplant horror" genre, the surgery goes awry or, in this case, is perhaps a bit too successful, allowing Mun to see things she doesn't necessarily want to (like, right, dead people), such as the Grim Reaper leading the newly departed away or the lost souls (suicides) still wandering, unaware of their death, or the anguished visual and psychic echoes of the mysterious donor from whom she received the corneas.

One thing that makes The Eye so successful, despite the fact that its neat scenario is still entirely routine (try Repulsion meets The Sixth Sense, with a little X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes thrown in), is that it's perceptive and effective even before the supernatural elements kick in. The Pang Brothers put a lot of care into making the viewer feel the disorienting pain of Mun's immersion into the world of sight, of learning to use a fifth sense after a lifetime of making do with only four: learning to identify common objects by sight instead of touch (Mun knows what a stapler is when she touches it but is unable to identify even the most common and mundane objects by sight), watching home movies of herself as a child, coping with a family that desperately wants to protect her. The transition doesn't get any easier when she gets booted out of her beloved symphony for the blind because of her good fortune.

By putting this much effort into cultivating audience sympathy for and identification with Mun, the Pang Brothers help their familiar but expertly staged scare scenes (including a tense doozy in an elevator) hit home that much harder. Cruise's version will probably have more pyrotechnics (and, I'm guessing, more spiritualistic jive), but I doubt it'll manage to be so charming or moving a frightfest. -- Chris Herrington

I guess it was inevitable that the two reigning kings of 1980s horror would have to be brought together at some point if either of their sell-out franchises were to be resurrected with any kind of interest. Pity, that. While Jason Voorhees has already had a "Final Chapter" and a "New Beginning," already "Taken Manhattan" and been launched into space in the future (10 Friday the 13ths altogether), Freddy Krueger was at least allowed the classy demise afforded him in 1994's imaginative New Nightmare. In that one, the folks responsible for the Nightmare on Elm Street series are haunted by the character they created for six previous films. That was at least cool -- watching actress Heather Langenkamp (playing herself) navigate her way out of a real nightmare, trying to apply the rules of the film series to protect herself and save her child from Freddy's unbridled wrath. I'm a big fan of graceful exits, you see, and I get awfully bent out of shape by unnecessary reprises. Please, Hollywood. Know when to quit.

Ahem.

In Freddy Vs. Jason, Freddy is depressed. And in an eye-rollingly bad opening monologue, he reveals that he has become impotent -- a result of being forgotten by people. And since he thrives on fear, if nobody's afraid of him, there's no Freddy Krueger. So, in a marriage of convenience even more monstrous than Liza Minnelli's, Freddy resurrects the undead Jason (from the future and from space somehow) to kill some teenagers near Freddy's old Elm Street haunt. Freddy will get the credit, which will make him feared again, prompting a return to power. But Freddy's plan goes afoul when Jason starts killing Freddy's targets. And as soon as this happens, Freddy decides it's time to "ix-nay the Ason-jay" while there are still teens to slaughter.

Neither franchise would be complete without a set of vapid teens, and we have here in FvJ the following types: the alcoholic, her verbally abusive and sexually demanding boyfriend, the rebellious monkeyboy rehab-escapee, the boy-next-door rehab-escapee (Jason Ritter -- John's son), the stoner, the twerp, the sassy black best friend (Kelly Rowland of the band Destiny's Child), and the buxom nice girl with a troubled past that only a confrontation with Freddy Krueger can untangle.

None of the aforementioned is very smart, yet they are able to piece together interminable amounts of exposition that allow them to figure out how to foil Freddy's master plan before they all end up dead. A paraphrase of their discoveries: "What if Freddy brought Jason back from the dead so that Freddy could take credit for Jason's killings, which would, in turn, bring Freddy back to enough strength to then kill on his own? Would not, then, the most effective solution be to find a way of bringing Freddy over into the real, nondream world so that he and Jason can destroy each other? Let's work on that." These are the same teens who don't have a problem with having a keg-party/rave in the middle of an isolated cornfield while a serial killer is on the loose. The stoner, after the inevitable cornfield massacre: "That goalie was really pissed at something."

This film is a mostly pointless exercise that's neither as iconic as King Kong vs. Godzilla nor as fun as Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. The two evildoers never really work together as they could have, and once the tides turn, all their fighting amounts to is slashing, slashing, slashing. There's no wit, no craft. And in an age of impressive CGI battles and Matrix-y martial arts, I wanted MORE. More chemistry, most of all. Neither director Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) nor its host of screenwriters seem to know what to do with these two now that they are assembled. But I tend to take things too seriously, and my roommate Jared helped me put things into perspective with this nugget: "What do you mean the leading girl wasn't well-cast? She had big boobs, didn't she?" How easily I forget that these movies are not pop art but rather excuses to see kids hacked up while trying to have sex. And for the money, there's a lot of gore and creatively disassembled teens to be enjoyed, and the cornfield rave is a pretty nice-looking set piece of terror.

I'm reminded of Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons as he tosses a pile of unsold comic books into the garbage: "She-Hulk vs. Leon Spinks? Worst cross-over series ever." This isn't the worst. Ever see The Monster Squad? I guess I just wish they had made more of these two titans of terror finally coming face-to-face after 19 years of co-existence. Does that make me a snob? God, I hope so. -- Bo List

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