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June 22, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown - The Descent vs. Near Dark

They say it's "a man's world". Clearly, they have never watched a horror film that wasn't directed by Eli Roth. But even with the dominance of women who live til the final reel in horror, very few horror films have ever really given women true power. This week, women step up and take that power in our Random Horror Throwdown; as Neil Marshall's The Descent - a 2005 chiller with a (basically) all lady cast - faces off with Near Dark - the 1987 vampire flick from future Oscar queen Kathryn Bigelow. With this many women involved, you gotta think this one's gonna get purse-onal. (Ha hey! Did you see what I did there? what women have...y'know...ah, never mind. I shame me.)


The Movies:
The Descent (2005, Dir. by Neil Marshall.)
Starring: Shauna McDonald, Natalie Mendoza.
IMDB Synopsis: A woman goes on vacation with her family and friends and her husband and her daughter encounters a tragic accident. One year later she goes hiking with her friends and they get trapped in the cave. With a lack of supply, they struggle to survive and they meet strange blood thirsty creatures. (Note from The Mike: This is another one of those synopses that focuses on the "And then...." method of writing. I kinda love it, maybe I need to rethink my approach to blogging.)

Near Dark (1987, Dir. by Kathryn Bigelow.)
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton.
IMDB Synopsis: A young man reluctantly joins a travelling "family" of evil vampires, when the girl he'd tried to seduce is part of that group. (Note from The Mike: Y'know, "evil" is a harsh word, bub. Sure, these vampires are a bit sadistic, maybe even vile, but who are you to call them "evil"? And why is your IMDB handle "Jesus"?)

The Directors:
I'm going to get this one out of the way first, because I love both directors dearly and it's painful to only reward one. The three films I've seen from Marshall have rocked me like few filmmakers since Carpenter have. Bigelow has made some very fine films too, from this one to the all-too-cool Point Break (which is not as good as Point Blank, by the way) and the underappreciated Jamie Lee Curtis flick Blue Steel, which co-stars the underappreciated Ron Silver. And, of course, she has the previously mentioned Oscar. But Marshall's hit three home runs in three at-bats...and I'm gonna take a risk and bet on his potential here. That makes one point for The Descent. (1-0, The Descent leads.)

The Casts:
As great as the ladies of The Descent are in their film, this one can hardly be argued. Near Dark boasts none less than Lance Henriksen AND Bill Paxton, who normally only team up under Bigelow's ex, James Cameron. Plus there's the fine '80s lady Jenny Wright, another Cameron veteran in Jennette Goldstein, and "son-of-The Exorcist" Joshua Miller. And Miller does exactly what his father did in 1973, giving the best performance in a great horror film - despite the more known stars around him. Near Dark takes this round. (1-1.)

So, The Mike pumped up the females at the start of this battle, but has given two straight po
ints to the guys? What's the deal with that?
You make a fine point, omniscient question poser! And I assure you, I mean no disrespect! In fact, I'll give both movies a point right now, just because Bigelow's awesome and because the women of The Descent are so good at what they do. (2-2.)

That was a total cop-out, The Mike! Why don't you just tell us how you really feel?
Ask and ye shall receive, genie in the internet's bottle. Here's what this matchup really has me thinking:

In the history of horror cinema, women have always been victims first and foremost. Most of that comes from society, where we're all taught at a young age that most things exist on either side of a line between masculine and feminine. Whenever the concept of being afraid comes up on that continuum, it's generally placed on the feminine side. Thus, the survivor girl happened instead of the survivor guy.

Near Dark's "survivor" character, in a complete role reversal from most horrors - especially from the 1980s -is Adrian Pasdar's Caleb. Also reversing roles is Wright as Mae, who becomes a protector and leader to Caleb - two roles that are generally reserved for the heroic male in these horror films. Bigelow handles this all wonderfully, as she too is a woman filling a role that's primarily for a male - directing a film that offers realistic terror from its characters without submitting to the things genders have been taught since before horror films existed.

Then there's The Descent. Neil Marshall is a director who has most certainly subscribed to the idea of women in power, from the moment he had a woman rescue a platoon of soldiers in Dog Soldiers to the casting of Rhona Mitra as Snake Plissken in his Escape flick (OK, not really, but close enough). Unlike those films - and unlike Near Dark - The Descent is all about giving women power.

With the only male character dying after becoming a point of contention between two strong women (and before the film's opening title screen), The Descent is squarely focused on putting women in a difficult situation in which their only resource is each other. I've been around large groups of females who are stuck with each other. I assure you, they do not play nice. When The Descent's plot escalates and the women are forced into action, Marshall offers the viewer female characters whose knee-jerk reactions and survival instincts seem realistic, even in the face of a ridiculous situation. Marshall offers truly human characters, and a lot of the film's tension comes from that fact alone.
This Choice is Like:
My male instinct is to make a joke about answering a woman who asks how she looks in a dress here. Y'know, it's that "there's no right answer" stereotype. (For the record, my standard response is "Yes.")

So, About That Final Point?:
For two very good reasons, both Near Dark and The Descent are milestones for women in horror cinema. Both films have thrilled me, kept me intrigued, and gave me great memories. In the end, the final point is simply coming down to which one of these terrific films I feel is paced a little better than the other and provides a few more thrills. And that film is, The Descent. (3-2, The Descent leads.)

(Note from The Mike: So, in typical male fashion, I've found two wonderful steps for womankind...and quickly pitted them against each other until only one remains. Ladies, you need to destroy us males soon, we're bad news!)

(Double Note from The Mike: This is the fifth RHT that's featured films from different years, and it's the first time I've given the nudge to the newer film. Am I getting soft?)


Enbrethiliel said...


These Random Throwdowns are never as random as they seem, are they? ;-) This one has got to be my favourite so far, The Mike!

I'd still throw all my biased love behind Near Dark, though. =P

But the poster for The Descent is awesome! =D

Emily said...

Very tough one this week- especially because of the Bill Paxton factor!!

I would also have chosen The Descent as it is one of my favorite horror movies ever (it's in my Top 10), whereas I really like Near Dark but I don't love it the way I do The Descent. While I am affected by Caleb's unfortunate circumstances in Near Dark and the movie as a whole is great, The Descent affects me in a far greater way....just the caving scenes evoke such a enormous feeling of dread!

Great reasoning for both movies!!

Andrei said...

"The Descent" is such an awesome movie. Totally deserves the win, even though "Near Dark" is tough to compete against.

By the way, have you seen the Blu-ray cover for "Near Dark"? They've actually 'twilighted' it. What is this world coming to?

Anonymous said...

The Descent and Near Dark are both great films. Giving women power in film, The Descent gets the win. Directing it will be Near Dark.

I Like Horror Movies said...

How dare you make us choose here The, this is one of the hardest throwdowns to date! I cant with a clean conscious not select The Descent though, masterful in so many ways, topping even the excellent Near Dark!