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"Where there is no imagination, there is no horror," wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, father of Sherlock Holmes and imaginer of quite a few horrors in his day. If that's so, the week before Halloween showed just how many fevered imaginations were working overtime in an effort to concoct ever-more-unimaginably horrific scenarios. The fourth installment of the Saw franchise went splatter, delighting petrified audiences and "butchering" the competition at the box office; the escapist entertainment may well reinforce the very office culture many watchers are fleeing, as one critic argues that the films are parables for middle managers. Whatever the buried message, crowds are eating it up (and they can look forward to at least two new installments, which are being shot back to back right now, perhaps as a hedge against a writers' strike), and when theatergoers weren't lapping up sadistic horror games, it was Alaskan vampires that caught their fantasy, with 30 Days of Night the week's third most-watched movie.
And while Halloween may be upon us, the trailers running before these gruesome flicks suggest that studios have opted to ignore the traditionally uplifting themes associated with the upcoming holidays, and are sticking instead to darkness and death. Vampires will be back in time for Christmas in the hotly anticipated I Am Legend (trailer here), Will Smith's last-man-on-earth horror fantasy, which boasts the most expensive scene ever shot in New York City ($5 million for 60 frantic seconds on the Brooklyn Bridge). Coming soon after that is Sweeney Todd (first trailer here, second one here), the latest holiday hallucination from Tim Burton (whose classic The Nightmare Before Christmas is now back in theaters); adapted from Steven Sondheim's award-winning musical, it stars Johnny Depp as a wrathful Victorian barber slashing his way to vengeance. And opening on Christmas Day is Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (gory red-band trailer here), which will star a goblin-like creature called a "predalien"—the bastard offspring of two of the 1980s' most famous movie monsters—which sounds like a joke, but is actually just a reflection of the sequel-crazed state of the studios today. Also not a joke is the movie's tag line, "There will be no peace on earth," a naked bid for the same kind of free publicity that outraged holiday purists bequeathed upon Black Christmas last year. What is a joke is the suggestion, floated on the Internet after J.K. Rowling's recent Dumbledore revelation, that Predalien might be gay.
Despite the fact that there's clearly no shortage of scary monsters haunting screens these days, Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro is reportedly pondering reanimating one of the movies' greatest ghouls, Frankenstein, one more time (at the moment, he has his hands full with another conflicted creature, since he's making a second Hellboy movie; the site just launched). Meanwhile, Mel Brooks' beloved musical parody of the Frankenstein fable, Young Frankenstein, is currently limping to the Broadway stage, where, despite a backlash over exorbitant ticket prices and a Dr. Frankenstein with a herniated disc, it's set to open November 8th.
Turning from ghouls to ghosts, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-seller The Lovely Bones, about a teenaged girl who watches and subtly influences her family from heaven after she's murdered, got an eleventh-hour shakeup just as filming was to begin, when star Ryan Gosling was replaced by Mark Wahlberg. (The New York Post promptly stirred the pot by claiming Gosling had been fired, while Gosling insisted he'd left voluntarily, feeling he wasn't right for the part.)
However, the week's best ghost story was about no ghost at all—it was about Owen Wilson, who rematerialized on MySpaceTV to chat, for the first time since his August suicide attempt, with friend and collaborator Wes Anderson about The Darjeeling Limited. While different commentators parsed the segment, which contained no reference to Wilson's recent problems, in different ways, it was great to see the actor smiling and talking, back in the land of the living.
Happy Halloween—eat, drink, and be scary!