JUNE 25, 2011
As one of the few members of the Kevin Costner fan club, I was surprised how many folks made jokes about his 2006 film with Ashton Kutcher when I tweeted that today's movie was The Guardian (1990). I figured no one even remembered that film existed, much like just about every other Costner flick (save Open Range) from the past decade or so. But I guess it's just more memorable than William Friedkin's only straight up horror film post-Exorcist (Bug barely qualifies IMO), which I think is a shame.
Of course, saying "From the director of THE EXORCIST" and even recycling the damn font in the opening credits probably didn't help much, since this is a completely different kind of horror movie. Whereas Exorcist was a dramatic, intelligent, and slowish paced take on a supernatural occurrence, The Guardian is balls out ridiculous almost right from the start, and its 90 minute running time doesn't leave much room for character development or slow burn chills. Hell, our first kill comes almost completely out of nowhere, when (I assume) the evil nanny causes the protagonists' #1 nanny choice to crash her bike and fall off a cliff so that she can get the job.
Oh, and it's about a Dendrophiliac druid that sacrifices babies to a man-eating tree. I know Scary Movie has been chosen as the cinematic point in history where subtlety died, but I guess that's only because Troy had yet to see this movie, where nothing is left to the imagination and each kill is more ridiculous than the last. At one point, a gang of thugs harass our antagonist (the nanny, not the tree) in the woods, and she pretends to be scared and runs, leading them to the tree, where it proceeds to beat one guy's head in with its branches, tear another one in half, and EAT (!) the other. I wasn't expecting much gore in the movie period, let alone such glorious splatter only a half hour into it.
Sadly the fast pace doesn't always keep up; the movie stops cold for a way too long sequence where a potential love interest for Camilla (Brad Hall, who appeared in Troll - dude's got a thing for plant love, I guess) first follows her out to the tree, where he sees her more or less engaged in foreplay (or is it a post-cuddle?) with the tree. Then he is chased back to his place by coyotes, who take another 5-10 minutes to kill him. I mean, we know this guy's a goner as soon as he is introduced, so why is this taking so long?
Especially when you consider another 2nd act issue - the near total disappearance of the mother. Any "parent suspects something is amiss with their child (or nanny taking care of it)" movie worth its salt always has one parent that's a lot smarter than the other, and here it's the dad. He goes off to investigate Camilla's background when he starts getting a bad vibe from her, but instead of the mother arguing with him or whatever, she just disappears from the movie entirely for a lengthy section. Thus, when the dad confronts Camilla, the mom's "You're being ridiculous!" anger isn't really earned, because we aren't hip to why she'd be so quick to defend this woman that they've only known for a week or so over her own husband.
It gets back on track from this point on though; unlike Orphan which actually had the parents separate over this sort of issue (never said that movie was PERFECT), Camilla doesn't bother pretending to be innocent for long, and thus not five minutes later she's babbling about sacrifice and taking the baby away right in front of the mother. Then we get a lot of wonderfully insane stuff, including Camilla showing off her surprise ability to fly (!), and a gloriously batshit finale in which the dad takes a chainsaw to the tree (which bleeds!) as the mom battles Camilla, who is starting to turn into a tree herself.
Interestingly, per the IMDb Sam Raimi was attached to direct this for a while, something I didn't know at the time I watched it. True or not, there's definitely an Evil Dead "homage" to this material, as not only do we have tree branches attacking/dragging our heroes around, but our hero wears a half buttoned up blue shirt as he wields a chainsaw and gets completely drenched in blood as he uses it. But I find it hard to believe Raimi would copy himself like this, so perhaps this is just a weird coincidence that was added by Friedkin, who came in and reworked the script. The movie is based on a book called "The Nanny", but unlike some others based on books I'm not too eager to read it; it was the nonsense on-screen that caused me to enjoy it - reading "and then the tree swallowed him whole" wouldn't be as exciting as actually SEEING it happen. It wasn't the interesting character or complex story that I was digging, in other words. But if anyone has read it, let me know what sort of madness it included!
Sadly the movie tanked and Friedkin once again left the horror genre, though even if it was a smash I doubt his career would have been much different; he's always jumped around genres regardless of the box office. But it's a shame that there hasn't been a bigger cult audience for this movie; it's one of the few non-bland/generic horror films to come out of the early 90s, and Jenny Seagrove ranks as one of the better (and certainly sexier) female horror villains to come along post Hammer (though it's interesting that I went straight from watching this to my screening of From Dusk Till Dawn, featuring a Salma Hayek dance that could instantly send a young man through the entire process of puberty). Sadly the DVD is out of print in Region 1(other regions have it - with a Friedkin commentary! - but not sure if they are still available), which probably doesn't help its stalled cult momentum, though it is now on Netflix Instant, which according to thousands of idiots is better than DVD anyway. As long as it's legal, just see it post haste!
What say you?