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[FILMS] Story Behind Danny/Oxide Pang's The Haunting

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  • madchinaman
    The Haunting By JOHN HODGMAN http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/23/magazine/23horror.html - Danny Pang Editor/Director/Screenwriter/Producer
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 28, 2006
      The Haunting


      Danny Pang

      2007 Bangkok Dangerous Director
      2006 Re-Cycle Director / Editor / Producer / Screenwriter
      2004 Leave Me Alone Director / Screenwriter
      2004 Omen Screenwriter / Producer
      2004 The Eye 2 Director / Editor
      2003 The Park Editor
      2003 Infernal Affairs III Editor
      2003 Infernal Affairs II Editor
      2002 The Eye Director / Editor / Screenwriter

      Oxide Pang Chun
      Oxide Pang was born in Hong Kong in 1967 where he worked as a VTR
      operator. He later moved to Bangkok and began to work as an editor
      and telecine film specialist but has also written scripts and
      produced Super 8 and 16mm films. Ta Fa Likit (1997) is his first
      feature film. ~ Gönül Dönmez-Colin, All Movie Guide
      2007 The Messengers Director / Editor
      2007 Bangkok Dangerous Director
      2006 Re-Cycle Producer / Screenwriter / Director / Editor
      2004 Ab-Normal Beauty Director / Producer / Screenwriter
      2004 Leave Me Alone Producer
      2004 Omen Producer / Screenwriter
      2004 The Eye 2 Director / Editor
      2003 The Tesseract Director / Editor / Screenwriter
      2002 The Eye Director / Editor / Screenwriter » Review
      2001 Bangkok Haunted Director
      2001 One Take Only Director
      2000 Bangkok Dangerous Director / Editor / Screenwriter » Review
      1998 Tha Fa Likbit Director / Producer / Screenwriter


      One bright afternoon last summer, I sat in a Chinese restaurant
      outside Regina, Saskatchewan, talking horror movies with Danny and
      Oxide Pang.

      When it comes to horror, Danny was saying, Americans crave
      explanation. "Every detail has to be logical. Why is the ghost
      flying? Why is the ghost walking? Why does the ghost attack that guy
      and not the other guy? They keep asking." He shook his head slightly
      in frustration. "This is a ghost movie," Danny said. "Ghosts are
      already illogical."

      Born in Hong Kong in 1965, the Pang twins have directed, separately
      or together, a half-dozen films: crime stories, thrillers,
      psychological dramas, comedies. But they will always be known for
      their ghosts, specifically those that haunted their best-known
      film, "The Eye," which came out in 2002. It told the story of a
      young blind woman who has her sight restored by a surgical procedure
      and soon realizes that her new corneas also allow her to see ghosts.

      If you must know, the ghosts do not fly. They occasionally walk, and
      they don't really attack anybody. They mainly just mope spookily
      around on their own ghostly business, puttering in hallways and
      hanging out in stairwells, taking turns creeping out the heroine
      until they are escorted to the afterlife by a mysterious group of
      smudgy, leotarded grim reapers.

      Like many Pang films, "The Eye" deploys a startling visual palette —
      strategic blurs, cuts and off-kilter framing that combine, in a way,
      to blind the audience just as the main character is gaining her
      sight. The ghosts are felt more than they are seen — the way we feel
      the prickle of someone reading over our shoulders in the subway. In
      one of the film's more memorable moments, the heroine boards an
      elevator and senses the presence of an elderly man floating
      somewhere behind her, dryly sucking at the air, seemingly trying to
      get her attention. We instantly sympathize: the sequence is only
      marginally more tense than getting caught in an elevator with a
      stranger who isn't undead, and naturally, she doesn't turn around.
      Oxide, Danny's very-slightly-older, slightly-more-roguish twin, told
      me that this scene caused much of Hong Kong to stop taking elevators
      altogether, but he said it with such self-satisfied mischief in his
      eyes that it was difficult to take him seriously.

      The Pangs were in Saskatchewan making their first English-language
      horror film, "The Messengers," due to be released in early 2007. It
      is the story of a Chicago family who flee the city to the peace of a
      Midwestern sunflower farm, only to find themselves menaced by a
      family of ghosts and a murder of angry crows. The film is being
      produced by Ghost House, one of a number of new all-horror
      production banners, though Ghost House has a pedigree: it is a joint
      venture between Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane of Mandate Pictures, on
      the one hand, and on the other, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, who more
      than 20 years ago made the seminal vacationing-teenagers-stalked-by-
      evil-wood-spirits film, "The Evil Dead."

      When I had lunch with the Pangs, they were already several weeks
      into shooting. I asked them how it was shaping up. Danny laughed
      ruefully. "Right now, it's really logical," he said.

      "We tried to combine it together," Oxide said. "To make it logical
      and keep it scary. We're trying to learn."

      "The Eye" was the Pang brothers' first Hong Kong production. Before
      then, they lived and worked primarily in Thailand, where they
      started out in commercials. But the particulars of their geography
      did not seem to matter in 2002. After the underground success of the
      Japanese haunted-videotape film "Ringu," in the late 90's, and the
      mainstream success of its English language remake, "The Ring," in
      2001, the U.S. was not picky about what part of Asia it got its
      scares from. And so "The Eye" picked up a limited theatrical release
      in the States, a small eddy in the dark, inky wave of Asian horror
      films and remakes that have swamped our shores over the past five

      "The Ring" led the way, followed by the haunted-house movie "The
      Grudge," the haunted Roosevelt Island movie, "Dark Water," and the
      forthcoming haunted-computer film, "Pulse." All derive from Japanese
      films that were already cult hits on video in the U.S. when they
      were remade here, and like "The Eye," they are all spooked by
      similar preoccupations: the supernatural reasserting itself within
      the rational world, often via the very technology that had banished
      it (be it VHS tapes, modern medicine or, as in "Pulse," the
      Internet — a kind of MySpace.com of the living dead); the
      replacement of traditional horror movie "scares" with slow, spooky
      elevator rides; and also, creepy children, who either are ghosts or
      just hang around with them.

      Though the wave has subsided somewhat, the aftereffects of the Asian
      ghost boom are still being felt. Once confined to big-city video
      stores, original Asian horror titles have begun to infect even the
      most remote suburban chains (largely because of the efforts of
      Japanese producer Taka Ichise, whose "J-Horror" line of original,
      straight-to-DVD Japanese-language horror films has spawned its own
      wave of English-language remakes). And more generally, the Asian
      horror boom has opened America to a provocative new generation of
      talented foreign directors who might otherwise have languished in
      art houses or on video. It undoubtedly cultivated an audience for
      provocative directors like Park Chanwook of South Korea and Takashi
      Miike of Japan (even though their brilliant, sometimes grueling
      physical-psychodramas cannot really be described as horror — their
      fondness for cutting off tongues and feet in their films
      notwithstanding). Beyond Asia there is England's Neil Marshall,
      whose subterranean thriller "The Descent" is one of the most
      anticipated horror films of the summer; France's Alexandre Aja, who
      recently remade Wes Craven's seminal 70's vacationing-family-stalked-
      by-mutants film "The Hills Have Eyes"; and Australia's James Wan and
      Leigh Whannell, whose $1.2 million Rube Goldbergian mutilation
      film "Saw" boggled Hollywood with an $18 million opening weekend in

      For directors like the Pangs, the Asian ghost boom might not get
      them straight to Hollywood (they will not, for example, be directing
      the American remake of "The Eye," currently in development), but it
      did get them to Regina.

      Though I'd been in Regina for a couple of days, this lunch was the
      first time I'd ever seen the Pangs together. As is typical of their
      collaborations, they were directing the film on alternating days:
      one supervised the set while the other worked on a rough edit of the
      previous day's shots — a time-saving technique developed on the
      perpetually rushed productions they are used to. While both speak
      English rather proficiently, they had brought along their own
      assistant director from Hong Kong to interpret their often spare
      direction: a grim, round man named Cub, who has one of the most
      imposing deadpans I've ever encountered. Cub described the
      difference between making a film in Asia and making a film in
      Hollywood this way: "There's more food here. Every day, two hours
      before the real meal, there will be sandwiches. So every day when
      sandwiches come around, we know: two hours to lunch."

      I visited the set on an Oxide day. While the interiors were being
      shot on a local sound stage, the sunflower farm scenes were staged
      in a hot green valley some 50 minutes north of Regina. In addition
      to the steady stream of food, there were other cues that this was a
      set buoyed by the typical though still-startling largess of a
      Hollywood budget. The Pangs chose the spot in the valley that most
      appealed to them visually, and a two-story family home was built
      there from scratch — all peeling paint and dying vines on the
      outside; on the inside, a hollow plywood shell. It was surrounded by
      some 60,000 actual sunflowers, planted from seed, with another
      20,000 silk sunflowers from China on standby.

      Dylan McDermott, who plays the father of the family, was wandering
      around the set wearing a bloody shirt with pitchfork holes in it.
      The Pangs were shooting a scene at the house where McDermott's
      character, Roy, would be taken away on a stretcher as the family of
      ghosts looked on from an upstairs window.

      Jason Shuman, one of the film's producers, pulled Oxide aside.

      "Did you see Roy? Is it too much blood?"

      "No," Oxide said. "He'll be covered with blankets."

      "And the ghosts.. . ." Jason said. "They don't look like ghosts
      anymore. They just look like people. Is that O.K.?"

      "Of course, of course," Oxide said.

      Meanwhile, Cub was standing nearby, offering his regular 1,000-yard
      stare, when he was approached by a young guy who had been hired to
      take photos of the production.

      "What do you say in Hong Kong when you want to say, `Action'?" the
      young photographer asked.

      "Action," Cub said, without pausing or even moving his eyes.

      "Really?" said the young guy. "You say `action'?"

      Cub stared straight ahead. "Yes."

      At that moment, Oxide swooped around the ambulance and the
      stretcher, examining angles. He explained to the visual-effects
      supervisor what they wanted for this scene.

      "Camera looks up," he said, indicating a second-floor window. "We
      see the ghosts. Then it tilts up. The crows fly. Camera tilts down.
      The ghosts are gone. We can cue them, and they just move. No special

      Oxide went on to explain how he wanted to have the crows fly out
      over the roof of the house. The production had a barn up on the
      ridge full of 16 trained ravens from the Czech Republic, for
      situations when actual crows are required to perch menacingly, for
      instance, on the rim of the baby's crib. Oxide prefers the real
      ravens ("No special effect!"), but in this case he relented and
      agreed that digital ravens would probably be more practical.

      Then, almost reluctantly, Oxide walked back over to the monitors to
      let the scene begin and called out: "Action."

      Horror, like comedy, has always been something of a reptilian-brain
      endeavor, unusual among the arts insofar as it is successful only
      when it is able to produce a single, audible emotional effect — a
      scream or a laugh — that is primal, cathartic and difficult to
      understand. This is one reason that horror has always been a
      director's medium: the horror movie is a contraption, and it takes a
      certain organizational flair to design, pace and frame a scare.

      About a month before I went to Regina, I visited Sam Raimi and Rob
      Tapert in Raimi's office, along with their partner in Ghost House,
      Joe Drake. The term that kept coming up was "roller coaster." "It's
      the novelty of a horror-movie concept that attracts the audience,"
      Tapert was saying. "They want the new and the different. They want
      the roller coaster built with new curves in it."

      Tapert and Raimi, who met in college at Michigan State, first
      learned how to build a horror movie in 1978. They were just 24 and
      19, respectively. Along with Raimi's high-school friend Bruce
      Campbell, Raimi and Tapert had worked on a Super 8 offbeat comedy.
      But the only kind of feature film they could raise money for, Tapert
      figured, was a horror movie. So they all went to the drive-in.

      "Everyone else was making out in the cars around us, and these three
      geeks were actually watching the movie," Raimi recalled. "A
      tremendous amount of European films came into America back then, and
      they were horror and soft-core for the drive-ins. None of them ever
      made it to the hard tops." Raimi paused and laughed softly. "That's
      a term they don't even use anymore.

      "We'd watch these films, and they always had 30 minutes of slow
      stuff. Then they had a good scare. Then there was another 15 minutes
      of slow stuff. Then there was a good suspense sequence. Then there
      was more slow stuff. Then a good ending.

      "So after about 20 of these, Rob and Bruce and I said, `Why don't we
      just make one that has all the good stuff and skip the slow stuff?"'

      The result was "The Evil Dead," shot on half a shoestring in a
      decomposing cabin in the Tennessee woods in the winter of 1979 and
      released in 1983. Drawing as much from the Three Stooges as from
      classic horror films, it was economical, unrelenting and infused
      with a kind of manic ingenuity — particularly in the swooping evil-
      spirit P.O.V. shots that would become a Raimi trademark, and the
      distressing spectacle of a young woman being molested by a tree. One
      executive who turned the script down in disgust called it 90 minutes
      of the possession scene from "The Exorcist." Tapert would later tell
      me with a smile that the guiding principle for "The Evil Dead" was
      this: "Punish the audience."

      While "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" ushered in a decade of
      masked-killer films that would define horror in the 80's, "The Evil
      Dead" nestled into the cult following that accrued around a pack of
      uncompromising American horror films from the 70's, including George
      Romero's zombie films, Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" and
      Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The films were often laced
      with corrosive social commentary, and their low budgets gave them an
      amateur, near-documentary feel that would make them all the more
      harrowing. There were rarely ever any slow parts — just a constant,
      anxious buzz.

      By the 90's, however, horror had waned as a genre. Countless
      iterations of "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" had
      fallen into rote familiarity and low comedy and gradually
      disappeared, to be replaced by the knowing self-parody of
      the "Scream" films. Horror didn't go away, but with the drive-ins
      gone, it found new, often-profitable exile in the direct-to-video
      market. Raimi, meanwhile, left the genre behind, making "Evil Dead
      2" as a kind of satire of the first, and turning to pure slapstick
      by the second sequel, "Army of Darkness." In 1998 he earned acclaim
      for his somber, humane thriller, "A Simple Plan," and then brought a
      reverent, pulp sensibility to "Spider-Man," which made the film
      among the most successful in history and Raimi an A-list director.

      It was around this time that Joe Drake founded his own production
      company, which would become Mandate Films. Drake had spent years
      selling movies to overseas territories for studios like Lions Gate,
      and he takes obvious pleasure in measuring the market's appetite.
      Later he would tell me a story about a producer acquaintance of his
      who had gone to Indonesia. "He asked the Indonesian buyers what they
      wanted, and they said, `Creature stories.' And so he asked, `What
      creatures?' And I don't remember the exact order, but it was
      something like snakes first, and then alligators, and then tigers.
      And so he made a movie with a tiger fighting an alligator."

      By 2002, Drake began to sense that there was an audience for well-
      made, modestly budgeted genre movies that wasn't being served. He
      and his business partner, Nathan Kahane, decided to start a single-
      genre production banner, and they wanted a name director to headline
      it. They were thinking maybe comedy, until Raimi's and Tapert's
      names came up. Then the path was clear: horror. Drake remembered
      being amazed by two things about the pair: that they would be
      interested at all, and that the entire deal was struck with a
      handshake. "We actually shook hands," he said again, astonishment in
      his eyes.

      This was not the way it was supposed to be. Horror was traditionally
      B-movie territory. It had long been a place where A-list talent
      might start out — Francis Ford Coppola with "Dementia 13," for
      example, or James Cameron with "Piranha II: The Spawning" — but not
      one where it typically longed to return. But by the early 00's, the
      distinction between A movies and B movies was blurring, in no small
      part because of the success of the Asian horror remakes. "The Ring"
      and "Dark Water" were attracting Academy Award nominees and lending
      the genre respectability it hadn't seen since Gregory Peck tried to
      kill the devil child in "The Omen."

      In the meantime, the 70's horror library, from the iconic ("The
      Texas Chainsaw Massacre") to the pedestrian ("The Amityville
      Horror") has been profitably plundered for remakes (though
      curiously, the remake of "Amityville" was stripped of its Satanic
      subtext, filling in the scares with a dare-I-say typically Asian
      vengeful ghost plot line, plus a rousing gabled-rooftop chase
      scene). And for the first time in a decade, the hard-core, largely
      male horror fans who long ago had been ceded by Hollywood to the
      direct-to-video market are now being lured back to the theaters with
      a string of violent, hard-R horror films.

      Consider Eli Roth's "Hostel," which opened at No. 1 in January,
      replacing "The Chronicles of Narnia." Like many horror films, it
      opened at around $20 million. Not a huge amount, but bear in mind
      that its budget was less than $5 million. And bear in mind that it
      was an R movie, thus reducing its potential audience, and what's
      more that it was an R-rated movie about teenagers running afoul of
      an elite torture club in Slovakia. Bear in mind that this $4.8
      million R-rated torture movie has gone on to earn some $80 million
      worldwide, and you might get a sense as to why studios seem eager to
      rely on scare-driven niche films to offset what they're really
      frightened of: a changing marketplace in which box office is
      besieged like a teenager in a cabin by DVD sales and the looming
      threat of the Internet and on-demand cable distribution; where the
      great mass-market monsters of old like "King Kong" or "Mission:
      Impossible III" can open at two to three times the audience of the
      average horror movie and still be considered, on Monday morning, a
      tragic, wounded beast.

      Joe Drake is allergic to the suggestion that he saw any of this
      coming. "I think right now the horror feature is defying gravity,"
      he said. "We're all kind of looking at it going, God, another horror
      movie has opened well. It sort of defies logic." Nor is it to
      suggest that Raimi's and Tapert's instincts to get back in the
      horror game were in any way mercenary; if anything Raimi seems
      genuinely delighted to be back, reputedly going over every Ghost
      House script and marketing campaign with avid, affectionate
      attention. It's only to say that, while the drive-ins where Tapert
      and Raimi initially studied the horror movie have disappeared, drive-
      in movies are thriving in a way they haven't in decades.

      nitially, Raimi and Tapert thought they would give a Ghost House
      movie a very specific, recognizable structure, going back to the
      formula they had teased out of the drive-in. "We did start with a
      very hard formula of five sequences of six minutes of suspense,"
      Raimi recalled, "no less than 18 scares. Because we knew that three
      or four would be cut, and three or four wouldn't work, but we'd end
      up with 10 or 11 really jolting, leap-out-of-your-seat moments for
      the audience."

      All that changed when they saw the original Japanese-language
      version of "The Grudge." Tapert and Raimi were not new to Asian
      cinema and the talents that were incubating there. They had worked a
      lot of kinetic, Hong Kong-style action into their 90's TV
      series "Xena: Warrior Princess," and they produced John Woo's first
      English-language film. But this was a roller coaster that they had
      not seen before. "Ju-on," as it was originally titled, was a quiet
      film about a house with a ghost rattling in the attic and a curse
      that attached itself indiscriminately to even the most casual
      passers-by. It had little discernible plot or logic, jumped back and
      forth in time and moved at the speed of dread. This was nothing but
      the slow stuff.

      And yet, it was shot entirely on practical locations — the kind of
      stripped-down, efficient, uncomfortable kind of horror filmmaking
      that Tapert and Raimi had started out in. And in no small part
      because of its novelty and nightmarish strangeness, it delivered a
      number of new curves. As Tapert put it: "A little black cat is
      scary. Evil little kids are scary. But evil little kids who mew like
      a cat?" He laughed, still shivering. "Well, that's a new

      In an unusual turn, Raimi and Tapert hired the original director
      of "The Grudge," Takashi Shimizu, to helm his own English-language
      remake of the film, even though he speaks no English. Shot in Tokyo,
      it's exceedingly faithful to the original, except with more computer-
      generated imagery and the pointed addition of a rooftop scene in
      which a Japanese police office explains to Sarah Michelle Gellar the
      logic of the story's central haunting.

      After the success of the "The Grudge," the proposed Ghost House
      formula would be thrown out the window. Just as Tapert and Raimi had
      rewritten the rules of the horror movie back at the drive-in, now
      they would look all over the world for directors who could build
      them a new roller coaster.

      The first film the Pangs made together was a ghost story.

      "It was so simple," Oxide told me on the set one afternoon during
      lunch. "A man, at midnight, looking in a mirror, peeling an apple."
      It's a Chinese folk tale, he explained: if you peel an apple at
      midnight in one unbroken piece, you see your future in the mirror.
      If you break the peel, a ghost appears."

      I asked him if that's what happened in this short film.

      "It's not complete yet," he said. "I shot it in the corridor of my
      building. It was low lighting, so when we shot it, it was black. So
      we didn't finish," he laughed. "We were 14."

      "How old are you now?" I asked.

      "Fourteen?" he said, eyebrows raised, and then he collapsed in

      In fact, both Pangs are 41, and their lives have entwined with the
      typical amount of creepy mischief you might expect from identical
      twins. Growing up in Hong Kong, they regularly switched identities
      in the classroom, and when they saw my tape recorder, Danny
      introduced himself as Oxide almost reflexively. After "The Eye,"
      each of the brothers decided to make a movie on his own: "Leave Me
      Alone," by Danny, and "Ab-Normal Beauty," by Oxide — both thrillers
      involving zero ghosts. When they watched the rough edits, they
      realized that both films featured a pivotal car accident at about
      the 10-minute mark. It was too good a joke to pass up: Oxide asked
      for Danny's accident footage to replace his own.

      They first worked together as adults in 1999 on "Bangkok Dangerous,"
      a fierce, pulpy crime film about a deaf-mute hit man that combined
      the Hong Kong-style operatic action and the Thai-Buddhist languor of
      the Pangs' twin homelands. Here they first and most boldly developed
      their style: an audacious cascade of varying film stocks, colors and
      speeds that is equally adept at capturing the agonizing slow motion
      of a sexual assault as it is the strangely painterly image of a man
      fighting off a horde of phantoms with his own luminous flatulence.

      This latter scene is from the "The Eye 10," which, despite its
      title, is the second and probably final sequel to "The Eye." The
      film, which the Pangs directed in Hong Kong and Thailand, is
      controversial even among their fans for jettisoning the story
      of "The Eye" altogether and replacing it with a buffoonish teenage
      comedy, including a ghostly break-dance fight. In fact, "The Eye 10"
      perfectly captured the Pangs' eagerness to move from genre to genre,
      to learn and to move on.

      "After our action movie," Oxide said, "we wanted to make a ghost

      "Why?" I asked.

      Oxide said, simply, "To try."

      "We want to make action, comedy, ghost movies.. . ."

      "You want to make everything?" I asked.

      "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Oxide said.

      When asked what attracted them to this particular movie, Oxide's
      answer was swift: "Sam Raimi." The Pangs had seen Raimi's work as
      kids in Hong Kong and loved it."The pacing, the pacing!" Oxide
      exclaimed, perhaps not surprisingly: much of Raimi's early work and
      all the "Evil Dead" films lurch wildly between real, sometimes
      affecting earnestness and pure clowning.

      When Raimi first invited them to consider the script of "The
      Messengers," the story involved an evil scarecrow that demanded
      human sacrifice. This was not entirely to the Pangs' liking, so they
      proposed two major changes. Instead of a scarecrow, there should be
      ghosts, and there should be a creepy child: an infant who can see
      the ghosts but cannot tell anyone about them.

      Almost immediately, the Pangs started sketching out the scares,
      designing and framing the film first on scraps of paper and then on
      storyboards as the script was still being written. They were not
      terribly concerned with the plot that would connect and make sense
      of these moments. In fact, talking to Oxide now, the whole idea of
      plot seemed remote, strange, overly logical. Asian movies, he said,
      are allowed to be "unreasonable," and to his mind, scarier. "With a
      scary movie," he said, "when the audience comes out of a theater,
      all that matters is whether it's scary. No one says, this scary
      movie is so cool. It's so reasonable."

      Later I would speak with Mark Wheaton, a screenwriter, about this
      view. Wheaton worked on the final draft of "The Messengers," a job
      he received in part because of the credentials he earned as a writer
      for Fangoria, the magazine of record for the horror fan base.
      According to Wheaton, the American horror film had been defanging
      evil for decades. By the end of the "Nightmare on Elm Street"
      series, he said, you pretty much knew what would happen the moment
      the lights went down: "Whoever the last girl standing is defeats
      Freddy." But in Asian horror, there is no puzzle to solve that will
      chase off the illogical ghosts. The characters in "The Grudge" are
      haunted not because of a past sin that they can atone for, Wheaton
      said. They are haunted because they walked past the house. "This
      movie put the fangs back in and said: `Actually, you aren't strong
      enough to beat this. Hollywood was wrong. You cannot win."'

      "The Eye" is a perfect example of this differing sensibility. At the
      end of the movie, the heroine waits in a traffic jam. She begins to
      see masses of the grim-reaper ghosts assembling amid the cars. The
      audience sees that a truck accident ahead is about to set off a gas
      explosion that will kill everyone for blocks around. As the heroine
      begins screaming at everyone around her to run for their lives, the
      American viewer sees, almost disappointingly, a classic resolution:
      she has only a few minutes to save the day. How will she use her
      rare and unusual power for good? Will she follow the ghosts to the
      disabled truck? Will the heroic boyfriend help her? But then the
      truck explodes, and the heroine is left wandering among the charred
      remains of mothers clutching their infant children.

      Oh, thinks the American viewer. Or, that could happen.

      While it's a grisly scene, it's not so much the fatalities that are
      alien and troubling as the fatalism — far more so than a meowing
      child. Much hay has been made about the connection between the
      headiness of the horror market these days and the national mood
      after 9/11. And it is true that, between unrelenting natural
      disasters and the war on terror, we are feeling pretty jumpy. The
      last time we were this existentially freaked out as a nation was
      directly after Vietnam, when Raimi and his colleagues were rewriting
      the rules of horror. Curiously, though, Hollywood's remakes of those
      very films often turn them upside down: where the cannibal clan
      in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was a subversive distortion of the
      classic American family, its remake is not grueling but comforting,
      drenched in the sheen of big budgets and nostalgia. With few
      exceptions, we have given over the real scary questions to those who
      were not born here: Do you need to be threatened with certain death
      in order to at last appreciate life ("Saw")? Why go on living once
      your entire family has been killed ("The Hills Have Eyes")?

      Perhaps because it is so difficult to face, we seem to be off-
      shoring our deepest fear, the creeping terror of the day: despite
      our rare and unusual power, what if we cannot stop the evil? What if
      we can't win?

      I asked Oxide again if there was a reason he and his brother were
      attracted to ghost stories, other than just wanting to try them out.

      He nodded. "It's like U.F.O.'s," he said. "It's something you will
      never get an answer to."

      I asked him if that meant he would make a U.F.O. film.

      He nodded quickly, eyebrows raised, "Later!" he said. "Later!"

      I went back to the set on a Danny day.

      "They're very into eyes," said Penelope Ann Miller, who plays the
      mother of the family. "One time, Oxide told me to look to the right
      and hold it. But I looked to the left for one second. All of a
      sudden, Cub's arms went up in the air, and I said: `I'm sorry! I'm

      Both brothers direct with spare efficiency. They are used to telling
      stories without a lot of language, for international audiences, with
      very precise visuals, and doing it fast. When one actor asked to go
      back to an earlier part of the scene to get into character, Danny
      didn't understand. Why would they go back to something he's already
      shot? "Danny told me," Miller said, "you have to empty your cup to
      drink from my tea."

      But now, as the sun went down over the sunflowers, Miller told me
      that the brothers had softened to the American system. In one of the
      last scenes of the film, Miller's character is supposed to come out
      to the yard carrying lemonade. The family has survived, but the cost
      has been high, and the scene is supposed to be silent and calm. But
      she couldn't help herself. She put her chin up and announced, "I
      have lemonade!"

      Immediately filming stopped. Jason Shuman, the producer, said: "No!
      It's too corny!"

      "But Danny said, `I love it,"' Miller said. "`It's so American!"'

      With the sun nearly set, the horror over for the day, Penelope Ann
      Miller laughed. "I couldn't just stand there. Who makes lemonade
      without saying they made lemonade?"
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