Friday, December 28, 2012

Ringu (1998)

Enjoyably creepy. The actual cursed VHS had clips that reminded me of chiascuro from Begotten (basically the definition of gritty cinema). I watched this gem with my family and my brother had the creativity to call the home phone on his cell phone right after the first time the protagonist watches the film, made for a great jump scare that I recommend others to repeat.

Yoichi is such a cool name.

Rabid (1977)

keloid /ke·loid/ (ke´loid)
a sharply elevated, irregularly shaped, progressively enlarging scar due to excessive collagen formation in the dermis during connective tissue repair.

Following up my essay on the architecture of Cronenberg's Shivers, it's fitting I continue with his second film of body horror, Rabid. I enjoyed recognizing some stars from Shivers returning to the screen. In fact, Shivers and Rabid create a pleasant multiverse alternative timeline ot the fall of Montreal by zombie-like transformed humans. And yet Cronenberg does not trap himself within the confines of the zombie genre. My few comments on Rabid will consider the physiological message emerging from Keloid Clinic.

As a plastic surgery clinic, they seek to make external appearance beautiful. The examination room has a poster of da Vinci's Vitruvian Man on the wall. The use of these "neutral cells" (read as stem cells) to recreate the proper texture of flesh show. I caught a phrase from a magazine in the waiting lounge, "the truth about skin care" that seems to be a late warning about this fixation on the external. Ironically, a keloid does form and these aesteticians cause internal changes they cannot begin to comprehend.

The motif of external to internal leads to support the perhaps obvious conclusion that Rabid is a film of penetration. The protagonist's armpit penis, the use of needles to immunize, feed, and sedate, the drill that penetrates the health minister's car, and most importantly, biting, the vector for infection. The doctors of the clinic gave a female a phallus, perhaps they only imagine true beauty in the shape of a man?

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

Why do I suffer the exploitation film? They are horrible. Where chain saws and gore transgress the physical boundaries of our contemporary culture, watching rape shatters the mental boundaries of human imagination. I Spit On Your Grave seeks to show the totality of masculine brutality against women.

The color red is a pervasive hue in the film that works at multiple levels to address the problem of violence against women. Red is the reason, the warning signal, the stage of, and the after glow of the violence. The multitude of meaning in this single signifier presents the argument that misogyny is ubiquitous in our society. Jen's solution of murder implies stopping misogyny requires revenge that is equally beyond societal boundaries.

The color manifests as lipstick, a red dress, nail polish, and the apple that Jen gives Matthew. These reds are seductive, they seem to support Johnny's pathetic excuse that Jen "asked for it" through provocative actions.

The red of the gas station stands, the summer cabin's decorations, lampshade, curtains, kitchen wall, and the interior of her river canoe are a foreshadowing of the kidnapping and rape.

The final brutal onslaught in her cabin, marked by the terrifying scare of the boot kicking the phone from her hand, is saturate with red. The crimson carpet, the red armchair, her bloodied frame all painting the image of carnage against women.

Finally, three of the four murders involve blood diffusing into water. Cloudy red water of the attackers is the chromatic reversal of Jen's experience. She escapes on her motorboat leaving evidence of the violence to seep into the river and disperse until it disappears to hide her deeds. Red, at the end of the film, becomes evidence of successful revenge and victory of the men.

The visual presence of red works to eroticize the protagonist, to warn her of the attack but also becomes an element of the violence and a marker of her revenge; these contrasting instances complicate our understanding of its use. By being associated with the entire plot of the film, red gains universal presence. Instead of symbolizing a single emotion, it represents the entire societal culture of violence against women. With this reading, red becomes the backdrop of the events, a stage that permits the cycle of misogyny to continue as a whole even if Jen killed her specific attackers.

This film.

It's crude. It's amateur. It ends with the creation of a female killer who's origins are fundamentally different from the mindless masculine evil of Mike Myers and Leatherface. The woman has reasons, her evil only emerges from revenge, it was never intrinsic.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Howling (1981)

One must approach a text like The Howling with Philip Brophy's "Horrality" in mind. The phrase "it knows that you know it knows you know" is a perfect summation of this self-parodizing werewolf movie. Without even looking hard, "Wolf chili" cans and a statue of the twins of Rome suckling from the she-wolf were two of the more subtle points in the great stream of intertextuality that emerges during the middle of the film and rides on all the way out to the end credits. Switching to a commercial for dog food actually made me laugh out loud. Furthermore, the man at the bar commenting on the special effects is pleasantly cheeky. Another supplement to contextualizing The Howling is definitely Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue. The fact that it was released five months before An American Werewolf in London means the two contemporaries are naturally primed for comparative responses.

The Howling, probably due to its origin as a novel, contains a greater world of lycanthropy. The camera shot on an etching of Little Red Riding implies that the wolf is a symbol that is pervasive throughout cultures (The implications of Grandma actually turning into a werewolf and desiring to eat her own granddaughter opens up a tremendous new avenue of potential Freudian creativity). American Werewolf focuses on the single psychological transformation within its main character until the animal nature emerges in the physical realm. The Howling frames lycanthropy as a mental illness that makes the inflicted residents of The Colony feel alienated from the world. It works to demystify the curse and redefine it as a medical affliction that fundamentally separates "the animalistic" in our world from the rest of society. The resolution of  killing  those who are different is horrible in its own right and is definitely not the message of the film. However, as far as horror goes, monsters that are transformations of our own human body so often divide society and we can find no other answer to their monstrous nature except for violence.

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)

I admit, this film does not completely match the rest of my macabre list. This solemn, post-apocalyptic film deals with the horror of loneliness and social constructs that still dominate the main character's thought processes even when there are no external pressures. I enjoyed the empty scenes of New York.  I wonder if Will Smith's I am Legend directors/designers watched this movie? Talking to mannequins seems to be a motif.

The black and white city will forever be a powerful image. I don't have any deep original analysis at this moment. This writer has some solid ideas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Last House on the Left (1972)

This film made me sick. I know that my last post praised the masterpiece horror in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre due to the film's mastery of sensory emotions. But I must immediately raise another rapturous celebration for Last House's achievements in exploitation horror. Where Tobe Hooper succeeded by manipulating the objective correlative, I will claim that Wes Craven's success derives from his mastery of structure. Last House frames itself as a Shakespearean tragedy and revenge tale placed in the backwater town road outside a city (it may be New York, but the effect of the film does not require an specific location). I say Shakespearean because of the comic relief scenes involving the police officers. Just as the Gatekeeper in Macbeth disrupts the aftermath of the murder to inject a comic soliloquy, these police men brilliantly pull the audience out of the pit of overwhelming pathos. Another Shakespearean element is the gripping frustration at how close the tragedy came to being avoided. Just as Shakespeare denies Juliet seeing Romeo before he takes his life, Craven brutally denies Mari and Phyllis salvation from their captors even though both the police and Mari's home are tantalizingly close during the entire ordeal of bloodthirsty abuse, torture, and murder.

I repeat, this film made me sick.