"What are the three movies I need to see to understand your vision," is the question plaguing the mind of Line Producer Rob Overbeck as he battles the feasibility of what I'm asking for with the realities of our monetary situation. Like a good Line Producer, he probably just wants to know where to trim from the budget without raising too much ire from yours truly.
My paranoia about his motives aside, it was a really good question and took me a spell to answer. From the beginning of this crazy thing, I've been ingesting media left, right, and center, drawing insight and inspiration from everything I could get my hands on. A trick I picked up in the past was to watch terrible movies and learn through what not to do - something I discussed in the past, but you remember that. Right? - but along the way I forgot about the good movies I wanted to emulate.
So, without further ado, here is the Essential Viewing List for Love in the Time of Monsters.
1- Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Sam Raimi's followup/remake of Evil Dead strikes the perfect balance of horror and comedy in ways the other two movies of the franchise just couldn't achieve. With how awesome this movie is, I'm almost ashamed at how long it took me to see it.
True story, when I was in High School I went on an Evil Dead kick. Really, I just wanted to watch Army of Darkness because of the geek mystique that surrounded it, but I figured I needed to watch the others first to have the correct context. I'm a stickler for continuity, what can I say?
To say that my 16 year old self was under-impressed by Evil Dead is an embarrassing but true fact. So, when I read the back of the Evil Dead 2 box to find that it seemed to be the same story as the first, I tossed it back to the shelf faster than you can say 'Deadite' and grabbed the movie I wanted to see in the first place. My thoughts on Army of Darkness will have to wait for another day.
Anyway, it wasn't until college, a good four to five years later, when my DVD buying habits were a bit out of control and I decided to give into the friend hype and 'blind buy' Evil Dead 2 while I was picking up Spider-Man 2. A pizza, a beer, and a viewing later, I was a fan for life.
Evil Dead 2 is scary without being nightmarish, goofy without being overly campy, and, most importantly, just straight up FUN. It crackles with energy as it nimbly leaps between it's amazing set pieces in ways that I can only hope to emulate.
It is, in my mind, is the standard bearer of a great Horror Comedy.
This simple story of mind controlling space slugs, love triangles, and badassness doesn't get near the respect it deserves. Between the great makeup effects and the sly delivery of Nathan Fillion, it ought to be a staple on every genre fan's shelf.
While I love it for the above, what keeps me coming back to it is the strong emotional core of the movie. For all the space slugs and gluttonous eating, deep down Slither is all about love. A theme, you might imagine, that is pretty near and dear to the movie that we're doing.
I love that Slither doesn't shy away from the deep emotions while going overboard with crazy visuals. The big climatic scene in which Elizabeth Banks has to dance with her husband-turned-flesh-monster while her unrequited lover tries to save her with a well-placed grenade is amazing because it works on all levels of emotionality. It's a tough balance to strike, but Slither nails it.
Evil Dead 2 might be the big, fun standard bearer, but Slither proves that adding a bit of emotional depth never hurts anything.
3- Shaun of the Dead
Speaking of adding an emotional depth, last on my list is the 2004 UK classic Shaun of the Dead. Funnier than the previous two movies, and not nearly as gory, SotD is a different approach to the material, but still a very valid one.
Like Slither, it doesn't shy away from using big crazy visuals as a backdrop to real human emotion. One of my favorite, heartbreaking moments in the movie is when Simon Pegg reacts to the death of his stepfather. The scene takes place in a speeding Porsche and ends with a zombi-fied stepfather trapped inside with terrible rock music playing is both hilarious and heartfelt, with neither emotion undercutting the other.
The strength of this movie, and it's importance to the overall tone of Love in the Time of Monsters, is that deft handling of tonality. Shaun of the Dead goes for the deep emotion that create great characters, but never in a way that interferes with the horror or overall tone of the overall piece.
In my head, Love in the Time of Monsters is a combination of all these movies. It has the deep, well-rounded characters of Shawn of the Dead, the big crazy backdrops of Slither, and the energy of Evil Dead 2. That is, in addition to a healthy sampling of both horror and comedy from all three, of course. And honestly, if I could make Love in the Time of Monsters just a sliver of how awesome these movies are, I'd be proud.