Friday, May 1, 2009

Fair is Foul This Friday

Last Thursday marked the 445th birthday of one William Shakespeare. I imagine thou art wondering what this doth have to do with um, thou. Easy as a Cliffs Notes cheat sheet: The Bard not only mastered iambic pentameter, but he also created quite a few tales for modern horror filmmakers to make their own. 
Perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy is, conveniently enough, one of his bloodiest. Theatre geeks shudder in fear at the very sound of its name, while the audience gets treated to talk of a premature C-section 500 years before Inside and the kind of shriveled old witches that set the standard for side characters in films like Clash of the Titans and Deadtime Stories. Ghosts, child murderers, and one of the greatest female villains in fictional history round out the original work, so it’s not surprise that horror helmers have taken their shots at the ambitious lord and lady and their Scottish plotting. For a fairly faithful but also generously gory pick, I’d go with Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation. Shot two years after the horrific murder of Sharon Tate, Polanski’s Macbeth has a genuine darkness, squeezing the horror out of Shakespeare’s words and discarding some of the lighter moments. Heterosexual male viewers will be happy to learn that Playboy co-financed the film, resulting in some gratuitous (and some plot-required) female nudity.

Titus Andronicus
I don’t mean to assume anything about my readers, but if you’re a genre fan, am I correct in guessing you enjoy your share of cinematic cannibalism and dismemberment with the occasional rape and human sacrifice tossed in? If so, look no further than Julie Taymor’s 1999 visually gluttonous adaptation of Shakespeare’s first big hit. Some literary snobs have attempted to distance their beloved bard from penning the equivalent of Elizabethan exploitation, but Shakespeare’s elegant language and intricate storytelling is there, albeit to teach a lesson about vengeance with gruesome humor and black humor. Much like modern filmmakers who cut their teeth in the horror genre, young William broke out with this tale of Romans and Goths (historical, not Hot Topic-al) and Taymor spares no feelings or PG13 rating in ripping through the fall of a great general at the macabre bidding of a charismatic sociopath. Taymor brilliantly casts a tongue-in-cheek Anthony Hopkins, who basically channels Hannibal Lector after a few too many Chiantis. Yes, the words are Willy’s, but the Virgin Queen wouldn’t be wearing white to her non-existent wedding after watching this one.

Romeo & Juliet
What’s more horrifying than the film that made a star out of Claire Danes, essentially ending production of My So-Called Life and beginning the tragic de-hunkifying downward spiral of the man formerly known as Jordan Catalano? Okay, so Baz Lurhmann’s Florida rave-ish re-staging may not be what you’re looking for, but those trying to avoid memories of 9th grade English class need not fear: for every simple story with a title ripe for punning, there is a Lloyd Kauffman. That’s right: Tromeo & Juliet, a tale of forbidden romance with piggishly deformed lovers, is Troma Studio’s retelling of Shakespeare’s best known weepfest, with the characters you know and the gross-out humor you long for. It’s probably not the film to cite on your midterm, but it does provide more mutations than the typical high school production.

This is commonly known as Shakespeare’s racial drama, but my filmic recommendation ignores that aspect and focuses instead on the poisonous nature of jealousy and distrust. And roller skates. That’s right: bring on the Jezebels.  As Quentin Tarantino points out in the special edition DVD, Jack Hill’s 1975 Switchblade Sisters is a fairly straightforward re-imaging of Othello. The powerful yet insecure Lace takes on the part of the doomed Moor, as her Iago-esque friend Patch whispers suspicions in the gang leader’s little ear, forcing Lace to question new sister Maggie and her intentions towards Domonic’s Desdemona. True, Shakespeare didn’t script shootouts or forced nerd prostitution, but Switchblade Sisters proves that a good story is timeless--even if the fashion is not.
With the financial success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I figure it’s only a matter of time before Hamlet is dusted off to be played by an angsty Twilight alum. In the meantime, feel classy and cultured the old fashioned way and share your thoughts below. Bonus points for anyone that puts their comments in sonnet form. 

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