Monday, June 17, 2013

The Legend of Hell House

I picked this British gem in the haunted house genre because Richard Matheson wrote the script. It was weird and dry. It was almost like Left 4 Dead, but in a house. and a ghost not zombies. It had tremendous atmosphere, taking place specifically before Christmas. It was a slow fun romp. Shots like the reflection of a tea kettle and furniture in the foreground were visually impressive. I enjoyed the architecture of the red bedroom, full of mirrors and sexual repression brought the house to life.

Indeed, the sexuality was everywhere. Breasts on statue after statue. Probably worth another viewing for anyone with a film and gender interests. All I know are that these two quotes made me laugh:

"The house is a giant battery"

"these walls are sheathed with lead"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wes Craven Double Review

Last semester, I went to a midnight screening of Wes Craven's Scream (1996). I then went to a talk with Wes Craven hosted by my school. Finally, last night I watched A Nightmare on Elmstreet. This double review will therefore include ideas from that talk and my thoughts on Wes Craven in general.

The first thing to know about Wes Craven is he did not plan on a film career. He read profusely as a child, a act that allowed him to escape the narrow thought of his Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing (an upbringing that forbid movies!). Made  his way to college and continued to read and study literature. He got a job teaching history of Western Civilization at some small college in the North East. Western Civilization, that's the key. I notice that Wes Craven's horror includes an understanding of the most elemental components of Western narrative. A Nightmare on Elmestreet, as he explained, deals with the fundamental human experience of dreams. If your English class ever read Macbeth, your mind should be buzzing with the half memories of lectures about Macbeth upsetting the natural sanctity of sleep when he kills Duncan. Its no accident that during Nancy's nightmare at school, the teacher is also teaching Shakespeare. Wes Craven bursts with Western Canon.

In the talk, Craven mentioned his fascination with nightmares. What is the evolutionary purpose of the nightmare. He answer: we need the mental stage to cope with our fear. A place to explore our fears of death and our concern about evil that lurks at the fringes of rationality. Stories of evil are necessary in our society.

This brings us the evil core of Nightmare, Freddy Kruger. His creation in an amalgam of several ideas. His method of attack, through dreams, came from an article on a Cambodian child afraid of sleeping because of his war-torn nightmares. The dream is a space where we have no protection, no one can help us. He implement: a glove of knives, combines the primordial weapon of the knife with the dextrous hand. His costume: a sweater whose two colors cause the most amount of retinal stress. No need to hide in the shadows in a dream. With his ability to teleport, Freddy can be equally garish and nightmarish. The most important component though is that ultimately evil intention of wanting to hurt children. Wes Craven told us about his terror as a child looking out his window seeing a man, presumably drunk, staring back at him from the street. Young Wes pulled back from view, hid in his room. After an indescribable amount of time, he returned to the window, the man was still there. That is a man who wanted to terrorize an innocent child. That is evil.

Returning to the Craven's narrative structure. I've noticed the theme of sins. Sins of the parents in Last House on the Left to avenge the sins against their child. Sins of the parents being paid by the child for Nightmare. The parents killed a man, and that man will in turn kill their own children. Scream also has a similar narrative seed. The killer, Billy, wanted to make Sidney Prescott's mother pay for sleeping with his dad. That's my favorite part about Scream, cut through all the jokes, meta jokes, and meta-meta-jokes (nothing beats bugging the TV room with a camera and putting the couch of horror viewing onto the screen to then be watched by the audience) and there is still a damn good mystery and damn good characters.

Wes Craven's characters rock. Most horror, even some of my favorites, does not flesh out any characters, some will only invest in the protagonist. Craven makes everyone interesting. The mother of Nightmare has an amazing amount of suffering and problems that are tangent to the main story about her daughter but such character development is relevant to increasing the stakes by showing that these are all real people being terrorized by the supernatural.

Returning to the power of this terror, I love the frustration integral to horror. This frustration is more than just screaming at the idiots on the screen, "don't go in there!". The best employment of such frustration evokes a dread at our own helplessness. That moment when our muscles tense, "Oh shit", and yet we can't do anything. Fight or flight fails. We are biologically helpless, yet the evil is still going to get us. Nightmare is full of such dreaded helpless moments: bars on Nancy's house locking her inside with a killer ghoul, the boyfriend falling asleep... twice, and seeing the sheets tie themselves in a noose while the police doubt Nancy's warnings. The greatest emerges from the very nature of dreams. The lack of an explanation about the beginning of a dream, so beautifully described by DiCaprio in the link, is a genius way to begin a horror sequence. When I heard Nancy's phone ring after she unplugged it... goose bumps, heart rate, trembling shaking anxiety. Shit, we're already in a dream. Shit, shit, shit. He's going to get us.

That is horror.

I conclude with a beautiful quote from the Wes Craven talk. This should be every horror fans response to those who pompously say there is no reason to pay to be scared.

"We don't pay to be scared. We are already afraid before we go to the theater."

Greatest Puns

I've heard puns are the lowest form of humor. However, I believe in creativity and art as a circle. Anything that is "the lowest" or "the worst" is also dangerously close to going around and entering the ranks of brilliance and genius. Here is a list of puns I find amazing:

Visual Puns.

A head giving head. Herbert West- Reanimator

The mask of scream appearing in the reflection of the refrigerators in the ice cream aisle of a grocery store. Scream

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Noroi, The Curse (2005)

What few essays I've read on horror, none have yet acknowledged the feeling of "creepy". Horror and terror are distinct but I need to better understand creepy. As a long and complex entry in J-horror, Noroi  left me with a distinct chill about the silliest of symbols joined together in a demon resurrection film. Pigeons, ectoplasmic worms, child psychics, a village at the bottom of a dammed lake--Noroi has it all. Although it employs VHS tech for its atmosphere, it is not dependent on the technology for the dread it creates. Instead, Noroi is fascinating because it feels like such an ancient horror narrative that still leads the contemporary protagonists to frightening situations. Without attempting a long essay, that last sentence hints to my understanding of "creepy" as an effect in horror. Creepy is the doubt that makes an folk horror story real. A doubt that some magic has slipped through the cracks of science and reason. A doubt that the Kagutaba is out there. 

Watch Noroi, one of my new favorites.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972)

So thanks to wikipedia, I learned the director of this movie, Bob Clark, also directed the wonderful early slasher, Black Christmas, who's actress, Olivia Hussey, played Juliet in "the good" film adaptation of R&J that the quirky drama teacher showed my class in middle school.

You may think I'm avoiding writing about CSPwDT. WAIT! That's a horrible acronym. Let's just call it Children. Wait, that's kind of creepy. In fact way creepier than this movie. Let's just call it the horrendously amateur zombie movie that has no action until the last ten minutes. And that folks, is the number one reason it should not be watched.

I have other, more minor flaws, that upset me. There were too many names in the title sequence. The electronic soundtrack felt like it was dripping. The lighting made many shots unclear. It's a shame though, because the screen play had promise. I jotted down some enjoyable phrases:

"clever girl"
"sanctum of satan"
"vibrations are powerful"
"what a perfect place for mass murder"
"It's like a great B movie"
"a fire a day keeps those ghosts away"
"I do have talent, when I have a good part... and get in character"

Those last few point to an attempt at horrality. But their delivery and placement did not make for enjoyable, ironic meta humor. It just made for a bunch of idiots copying night of the living dead-but making it stupid. Stupid, because of the man I dubbed Prospero, the charlatan who leads the "teens" to the haunted island. His lines were ridiculously intellectual and shakespearean. And the part when the ugly girl goes all "Yenta the matchmaker" and bugs out her eyes.

So much potential wasted.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Ah Claire Denis, I did not expect you to turn up on my list. I must of selected Trouble Every Day during random googling of phrases such as "unknown horror", "european horror", and "transgressive film". The plate of shrimp in this case is that my English professor showed us a film, Beau Travail, also directed by Denis (pronounced Deni) last month.

As such, I totally recognized her style and as soon as the Comic Sans title sequence ended (which I mentioned to a friend who joked "I would have turned it off") the film thrust an audience of one into a creeping tale of suppressed lust.

The striking element of Trouble Every Day is that as one who's been with the genre of horror for awhile, I totally knew its tropes. I knew the seductive femme fatale shown in the beginning was going to kill men after seducing them. I just knew that the American couple's honeymoon in France would not be hunky-dory. I just knew the two teens were going to unleash the femme fatale's dangerous lust. However, I did not know that it would take long shots of gritty French interiors and wordless character development that diverts from the established protagonists to follow the hotel maid to get to these conclusions. Denis rejects "horrality" in all its self aware glory by not letting the tropes propel the film. Instead, the camera's focused eye maintained a brutal grip on the narrative. The audience suffers unease while the camera lingers on places instead of gazing upon the actual horrific events.

Adding with the horror tropes, the "explanation" of the characters' vampirism/cannibalism/sexual bloodlust derives from a Resident Evil-like scientific experiment with rainforest plants containing hormones or some such biochemistry that changes humans. There were beautiful shots of stirring rods spinning in beakers and flasks being shaken on electric shakers. Mechanical repetition that contrasts with the organic irregularity of the characters' lifestyles.

Even though I identified these tropes, Denis refuses to completely align with them and demands the viewer make their own connections. The most powerful scenes are those with blood. Beautiful blood. Breathtaking crimson arabesque that leaps from shredded capillaries and paint the external world. These are scenes of pure transgression where the internal fluids become an external hue. As a result, the violence and the sex are the most concrete actions in the film. Trouble Every Day is a successful, artistic horror film because the reasons for the violence don't matter. The tropes don't make the film. The tropes are a product of showing me the true violent lust capable within a human being.