It’s scary out there

Fantasy, horror and sci-fi rule the multiplex in early 2013

The monkey, the doll and the Franco in <i>Oz: The Great and Powerful</i>.

The monkey, the doll and the Franco in Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Looking at the roster of flicks in the bullpen for the first few months of the new year, one notices the abundance of ghosts, witches, demons and other things that go bump in the night. The nerds have won the movie wars at the multiplex. As my Uncle Forry used to say, “It was the beast of times, it was the warts of time.”

But while the sci-fi, horror and fantasy genres have been mainstreamed, they’ve also been homogenized. Out of the witch’s dozen of these films that slithered through Tinseltown last year, the only one that inarguably stood out was the Joss Whedon-produced The Cabin in the Woods, which itself was a vivisection of the genre. It pretty much opened up the tropes and took a piss, doing to horror movies what Blazing Saddles did to the western.

Director Don Coscarelli (of the long-running Phantasm series and cult favorite Bubba Ho-Tep) plays in the same playground as Cabin but in a different sandbox with his latest, John Dies in the End (opening Jan. 25), a delirious tweak in the vein of Donnie Darko and Naked Lunch. Featuring a couple of slackers who stumble across a new drug that opens the doors of perception, the film unleashes all sorts of mind-bending comedy horror. If you dig weird cinema, this is the sick puppy you’ve been waiting for.

But for the folks who thought that Cabin was too esoteric in its approach to humor, there’s the promised lowest-common-denominator laughs of A Haunted House (Jan. 11), a Marlon Wayans spoof of the found-footage genre, which kind of sounds like one of the Scary Movie entries that he helped launch (a Wayans-free fifth entry in the festering series opens April 12).

The big news is that, after a decade of Spider-Man, director Sam Raimi is finally free of the spandex genre. He hits the ground running with a return to Oz: the Great and Powerful (March 8) and production of the reboot of his own The Evil Dead franchise (starting with Evil Dead, April 12). Judging by the red-band trailer of the latter, it’ll be interesting to see if producer Raimi and first-time director Fede Alvarez can deliver with the “ultimate experience in grueling terror” that its 1981 antecedent didn’t exactly deliver on.

Also in April, retro-fetishist Rob Zombie pays a visit to The Lords of Salem (April 26) and the ’80s bugaboo of backmasking, with a backward-playing record sending a posse of DJs off to revisit America’s original haunted house. And ubiquitous genre fanboy Guillermo del Toro (whose giant-robot sci-fi battle Pacific Rim drops this summer) weighs in as producer of some European-flavored art-house horror with Mama (Jan. 18), featuring a couple of kids abandoned in a cabin in the woods for several years before being returned to civilization. And they bring something with them. We’re promised the atmospheric-horror elements of del Toro’s acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth, but cranked up to 11.

Also peppered through the spring are Warm Bodies (Twilight meets Zombieland); Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (from the director of the Nazi-zombie spoof Dead Snow); Bryan “X-Men” Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer; Black Rock (described as Thelma & Louise meets Deliverance), The Host (sci-fi from the author of Twilight), and Oblivion (Tom Cruise does his running thing around post-apocalyptic Earth). There are also new entries in the Star Trek and Iron Man franchises and the wildly anticipated sequels to The Haunting in Connecticut and The Last Exorcism.

If you don’t like horror, sci-fi or fantasy, there’s always, well, not a lot, except a bunch of the usual comedy suspects (The Hangover Part III, and Jim Carrey and Steve Carell in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) and pumped-up actioners—with Jason Statham doing what he usually does in Parker, Bruce Willis crackin’ wise with A Good Day to Die Hard and a saggy Schwarzenegger trying to come back with The Last Stand.

If none of this sounds interesting there’s always the alternative offered by downtown’s own cozy li’l Pageant Theatre, the comfortably reliable source for well-regarded movies where you can still buy both a ticket and popcorn for less than 10 bucks.