Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Going, Going, Gone: David Fincher's Gone Girl (2014)

I didn't have any intention of seeing Gone Girl. The hype, not being a huge fan of David Fincher and the Oscar-baiting were all a real turn off for me. Its opening weekend I had drinks with a former teacher of mine who I have great admiration for and she told me to see it. She didn't say much else. She just cryptically smiled at me and repeated that I should see it. The following weekend for me was what I refer to as a Horror Shut In, I had articles to finish and movies to research. As my brain was hitting critical mass trying write a decent plot synopsis of a film for a larger article, I stepped away from my computer and while I was waiting for water to boil for a fresh cup of tea I checked the movie listings in an abandoned newspaper on the kitchen table. If I left at that moment I could catch a screening of Gone Girl at the local cinema. I didn't have that cup of tea.

I was blown away by Gone Girl. Possibly more so than other films I've loved this year like The Only Lovers Left Alive and Under the Skin because I went in with low expectations. I thought I could kill a few hours in the evening, get a good night's sleep and tackle writing the following morning. I walked out of that movie theatre with my mind more switched on than it had been all day.

**Spoilery Spoils Below**

Gone Girl is the story of a marriage. I still don't know if the film is a thriller, a satire or a horror story but looking back, I think it's a little of all three. Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) are married, unhappily. Amy goes missing, the police begin to circle Nick as their prime suspect. The narrative shifts to Amy's perspective and we learn that she has masterminded her disappearance, framing Nick in hopes of starting anew. After her plans go awry she falls back on Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), her high school boyfriend who still carries a torch for her. After the relationship with Desi becomes untenable Amy brutally (like New French Extremity brutally) kills him framing him for her disappearance and returns home to Nick who has learned what kind of monster she is.

Now let's talk about what kind of monster she is. She's a self-serving unrepentant monster, but that's because she put her faith in the system. From her family to Nick's wooing, she felt that she was promised something more. When the reality of the doldrums of her life set in she decided to burn it down and start again. When her husband cheated and took her for granted, she wanted not only revenge but to watch him squirm. Amy has had a backstage pass to Nick's nature (he's a lunkhead) and wanted the rest of the world to see what she saw. Nick's biggest ally, his sister Margo or Go (Carrie Coon) sees her brother's true nature throughout the search for Amy. While he's not a killer, he's not the stand up guy he purports to be. Amy thinks she's found the answers to her predicament Desi but soon realizes that she's more trapped than ever and builds her own narrative to free herself once again. When she returns home to Nick, they both know that lines have been drawn in the sand and for the sake of both their narratives they must stay together. They both think they can control each other to a certain extent. Nick is bound by fear and Amy, I believe, is bound by the patriarchal notion of the family. By painting a happy reconciliation, Amy is allowed to continue her reinvention. While the characters wind up in a similar situation as beginning their true natures are revealed.

The novel and the film are very similar. Fincher is a cold analytic director in my opinion and his style serves this story well. This is not a story about feelings, it's a story about actions. Amy is a female version of Tyler Durden. The reality of Gone Girl and Fight Club are about to implode and both Tyler and Amy are the ones to pull the trigger on the suffocating realities. While Fight Club looked at the larger world of contemporary city life, Gone Girl looks at the home front. This is battleground on the domesticity. The part of the world that women are expected to comply in the upkeep of. While the ending of Gone Girl is not as spectacular as Fight Club, it is more brutal because the war between Nick and Amy is not over, it's just beginning.

Gillian Flynn who wrote both the novel and screenplay of Gone Girl took a fair amount of flack for the character of Amy addressed the fears that her story was anti-feminist in an interview with the Guardian:
“...really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters … the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big push back against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish ... I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy – she has no motive, and so she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho-bitchiness.” (Source)

Many felt that Gone Girl fostered the feminism gone wild attitude. They feared that it would bolster what the uninformed fear that feminism is about - man-hating and letting women take over. It's not. It's so not. And if you think it's that, do yourself a favor and be quiet. I believe what Flynn says. I loved seeing a woman who was motivated for herself. It doesn't mean she bad, it just means she's not good. It means that she's a character. Look at the majority of leading parts for women - they're good and strong. But they're rarely interesting. They suffer, they never cause suffering. Amy causes chaos wherever she goes and I think that's fucking amazing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Child's Play 2 - Stand Tall

Chucky, Chucky, Chucky. For friends of mine who aren’t horror fans, I find Chucky to be one of their most terrifying visages they've come across. Since they’ve never seen the movies, they only have their memories of VHS boxes from the video store to go off of. The slightly menacing but blank stare doesn’t reflect the overall goofy nature of the films. While the original does try to up the menacing factor it simply can’t get around that it’s a doll that’s about a foot tall wreaking havoc on these poor people, when a good kick would probably suffice in doing him in. I’d heard andread that Child’s Play 2 was the thinking person’s Child’s Play movie. But mainly I left the series alone. I caught Bride of Chucky because I adore Jennifer Tilley and I believe I caught part of Seed of Chucky on TV. With the Curse of Chucky getting solid reviews and ending up on a lot of Best of 2013 lists, I felt like I should check it out, but before I did I needed to see the sequel. 

Child’s Play 2 is a delight. It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s well shot with some great performances and all these elements are matched by genuine energy that permeates the screen and makes everything a lot more fun and cohesive than the original. The pacing is tight and to the point so you can’t deal on Chucky’s stature for too long and the deaths, while over the top, are pretty freaky and elicited more than a few shudders from this blogger. The Chucky puppet is well animated and the filmmakers do a great job of cutting around any inconsistencies in the to allow the audience to fully immerse themselves in the movie. This shows that the filmmakers KNEW what kind of film they were making, from its strengths to its weaknesses they knew how to work with them.

The story picks up pretty quickly from where the first left off with the Good Guy Corp retrieving the cursed doll from the final crime scene of the first film and with Andy being put into foster care while his mother undergoes psychiatric evaluation. The Good Guy Corp manages to re-animate Chucky who needs Andy to transfer his soul to. Andy’s new foster family are kind yet weary of any kid who claims a doll did it repeatedly. The film works more as a dark satire than a straight forward horror film, tackling corporate America who are more concerned with profits than with human suffering and the imploding family unit. It’s really fun to see Jenny Agutter (from An American Werewolf in London) play Andy’s loving but long-suffering foster mom and Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky is the most iconic voice performances in horror. And Alex Vincent as Andy gives a really great performance and is so cute I want to eat his face.

One of the fun things about growing up with horror (or ANY genre that you have an affinity for) is the opportunity to go back, revisit and revise previously held notions. There’s no fun in assuming that your twelve year old self was right about everything (except for drinking Coke a Cola through red licorice, I was right about that). Thankfully through sites like Dread Central and other fans we create a constant dialogue that opens up new viewpoints and opportunities if you’re open to it.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Horror Movie Coolie (Christmas Edition and Brief 2013 Wrap-Up): Lynn Peltzer aka Mom (Francis Lee McCain) in Gremlins (1984)

Mom's do a lot for their respective families especially around the Holidays. There's a lot of hard work that goes into parenting that you only realize the older you get (or have a child yourself). I put on Gremlins (1984) which had been handed down to me by my dear friend Paul "Canuxploitation" Corupe which I hadn't watched since I was a child. I remember being terrified of this movie. The Gremlins creeped me out beyond belief and no amount of "but it's a horror-comedy" could convince me otherwise.

Sidenote: I had some kind of weird flashback while watching this movie. I remember going to, I believe, Universal Studios when I was a child and going in to see some kind of "educational" show which gets overtaken by Gremlins and it, again, scaring the shit out of me. Does anyone know what that show was called? I'd love to be able to tell my therapist.

ANYWAY, in last night's viewing I was struck by how violent Gremlins is which now I appreciated and helps me justify my earlier terror of this film. I also LOVED the Mom (aka Mrs. Peltzer) in this movie. She was really lovely and warm but when the Gremlins show up she does as much damage as Ellen Ripley did on her best day. Observe:

See? Pretty badass and crazy, right? I appreciate when characters adapt to the situation they are presented with rather then run around questioning why or disbelieving.  Mrs. Peltzer is a Horror Movie Coolie in my books because she not only supported her family emotionally, but also with a kitchen knife... and a microwave....

Quick wrap up for 2013, the biggest thing this year was the launch of The Faculty of Horror with my co-host Andrea "Hellbat" Subissati. It's something I've loved doing and have been completely overwhelmed by the response.

I also started my column for Diabolique magazine called The Devil Made Us Watch It. It was a complete surprised to be asked to do it but I'm very excited for the opportunity. If you've read it, drop me a line and let me know what you think. 

My favourite genre films of this year we're The World's End and You're Next, both funny and engaging featuring great performances.

My biggest disappointment of this year was the documentary Camp Crystal Lake Memories. Made by the same guys who did the AMAZING Never Sleep Again documentary and utilizing the same format, CCLM was a clunker in every sense of the word. It's extraordinarily boring with none of the cultural or business insight that made NSA so interesting and watchable. It becomes clear that the Friday the 13th series (which I am a fan of) truly was a cash grab that had little heart or soul behind it from a creators standpoint. But if you want a six hour plus documentary about actors whining about how hard it was to film, then have I got the movie for you. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Horror Christmas Song: The Re-Purpose-ing

Do you love Christmas and the Holidays? I do! Part of the fun for me is to insert random horror into any on going festivities. (last year I made Christmas ornaments commemorating all my favourite Final Girls) This year I thought I'd share one of my favourite Christmas songs with you, one that I've used my skills on to make it more appropriate for those who love horror. Enjoy!

Black Christmas (sung to the tune of Wham!'s Last Christmas)

(Happy Christmas)

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
(I'll call you again)
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

One's asthmatic, I'll stab her twice
I'll keep my distance but I'm still in your attic
Tell me baby how did you not know
Billy's here and I'll take off your head.

(Happy Christmas)

I wrapped up that girl
In a dry cleaning bag
Now I know what a fool you've been
Those dry cleaners have been over-charging you

Oh, oh my baby

Crowded rooms, more for the killing
I'm hiding from you, but I know all about you
My God, I thought you'd know
But even John Saxon can't track me

I killed your House Mother
I killed your friends
But you still think 
It's the guy from 2001.

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
(I'll call you again)
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

A police with a gun
(I'll call you again)
And fellatio on his mind.
Maybe next year, I'll kill him too
(Kill him too)

I thought you knew I'm here to stay
I'll live in your attic
I'll watch you too
Oh baby, baby, what can you do?

Gave you my heart
I'll call you again
I'll call you again

Black Christmas I gave you my heart
I'll call you again
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Carrie (2013)

Dear Carrie 2013,

I've never liked you. From the moment you were announced I had my back up. Why remake a near-perfect classic? A colleague who made a set visit for a piece you  while you was shooting in Toronto insisted that it would be totally and completely different - we would all shake before your awesome wrath repenting the name De Palma.

Then I saw you. I honestly tried to remain open. Mayhaps you would win me over yet. But no, so no. I would like to talk about the ways you failed because they were so overt it was like getting the middle finger for 90 minutes. And if we can't learn from our mistakes, then what's the point of making them? Especially in wide release.

From your announcement you said were going to be much closer to the original novel, now I don't know if you've ever read Stephen King's Carrie but it's a pretty bare bones novel. Much of it is left up to the reader's imagination since it is an epistolary novel made out of fake depositions, news paper and academic articles. Lawrence D. Cohen and Brian De Palma worked to create the narrative world and bring it to the screen. Your insistence that you would be closer to the novel was simply false. I believe you meant to say, you would adhere bizarrely close to the 1976 film. Maybe I'm just getting worked up on technicality. Let's move on shall we?

Kimberley Pierce was an intriguing choice for a director. Her lingering shots in Boys Don't Cry helped the audience understand an outsider and the world around him, which is exactly the touch that you need. However, this felt like less of an intimate portrait and more of a directed-by-committee-paint-by-numbers job. Within 15 minutes I could tell you were a poorly paced, hatcheted mess. There was no finess, no style and no soul to you. You were a heaping pill of CW goo.

Your actors are a bunch of American Eagle Outfitter models. Please rectify.

If you were going to be oh, so different why use large parts of Lawrence D. Cohen's screenplay. I agree it's a great one, but why use it? Why not write your own? Don't use the 1976 screenplay (including dated slang) and shoehorn in a couple of additional storylines. By doing this you managed to make Carrie seem like an X-Men: Origins story, rather than a terrifying look at the nature of the excluded.

Now I've never been a fan of CGI so perhaps I'm biased here, but the gratutious use of it made me physically upset. The brilliance of the novel Carrie is that it's so rooted in the real world and you have real-world documents dealing with the supernatural. The over use of CGI, gore and violence did you a huge disservice. Rather than set you apart made you part of the pack.

You are an atrocious mess of a film. Please make your DVD/Blu Ray release mercifully short and get the hell out of my consciousness




Monday, October 14, 2013

Professional Terrors: Actors in Horror Films

Actors are a tricky bunch. At best you'll have no idea they're an actor and are pleasantly charmed to find out that they are. At worst they're soul destroying narcissists. The whole notion of an actor protraying an actor is quite meta in and of itself so while I won't be going into notions of performance theory in this post, know that there are entire areas of studies that some academics have built their careers on. For this post we're going to be focussing on the profession of acting in horror films and what that artifice means to the story.

Guy Woodhouse (Rosemary's Baby, 1968)

Guy may be the ultimate example of a actor within the film. His young wife Rosemary dotes on him setting aside her wants for his needs. As the primary breadwinner she is extremely proud of the small successes he's had and puts up with his bad moods and temper tantrums when he faces professional failure. His ego is his tragic flaw. He's easily seduced by the Castevets when they flatter him and promise him fame and fortune. One of the most fascinating things about Guy is his first line in the film where he joke that he and Rosemary are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. A joke, yes, but it's also a lie. A lot of writers and film scholars are fascinated by a character's first line in a film and Guy's not-very-funny duplicitous remark sets him up as an untrustworthy character.

Upon my many rewatches of this film, what strikes me is that he's not a very good actor. Guy is unable to control the situation or hide his disgust after Rosemary becomes pregnant triggering her paranoia. I guess he needed a lucky break wherever he could get one.

Half the cast of Scream 3 (Scream 3, 2000)

In what was believed to be the third and final installment of the Scream franchise, the Woodsboro gang head to Hollywood where they are making the third film based off Gail Weathers' book Stab. Scream 3 led to a lot of opportunities to make fun of franchises and Hollywood but the most interesting moments for me are when Gail (Courtney Cox) is paired up with the actress playing her in the movie (Parker Posey). While director Wes Craven milks these moments far too much, it allows for Gail to come face to face with herself and not only have a partner in crime but to also recognize that she's a sometimes horrible person.

Heather Langenkamp (Wes Craven's New Nightmare, 1994)

 This is possibly the strangest example in the list. Heather Langenkamp as Heather Langenkamp shows us an actress who has essentially retired form acting to raise her young son. It also shows us an actor from a successful horror franchise who is unable to escape it and as her character Nancy triumphed over Freddy a handful of times she is also the target of the evil spirit of Freddy who's like a genie... or something.

Craven and Langenkamp have both talked publicly about how some of the initial ideas for this film came from Langenkamp's own experience with a stalker. In New Nightmare, Langenkamp is a again stalked but this time by Freddy Krueger who appears both as a malevolent demonic figure as the pop culture cult of Freddy. While I think most of us like having a job to earn money and support yourself, New Nightmare explores the notion of fiction and reality and what happens when you give your image and emotion over to the fictional.

Actors are both hero and villain, victim and confidant. What all art attempts to do is hold a mirror up to society and show it its triumphs and failures. The character of the actor attempts to serve this notion but on a much more personal level.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Professional Terrors: Lawyers In Horror Films

 [Lawyers] can make the worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakably innocent.
                                                                                         Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying"

So we're into October and what's the point of having a horror blog if you can't do a series for the month that practically birthed the horror genre? (Answer: not much) So in the spirit of horror's unofficial birthday month I thought it'd be appropriate to take a look at one of the most terrifying facets of growing up - getting a job.

You can take all the high school equivalency tests you want and whether they say homemaker, restaurant owner or janitor of a remote hotel there's some horror behind each one. In this inaugural Professional Terrors post we're going to look at one of the most reviled and sinister jobs in the world, The Lawyer.

Now lawyers can fall into several categories; the evil defender of evil, the do-gooder Erin Brockovich type (pre-informercials) or the boring clerical type who's soul dies under a stack of paperwork.  The notion of legality and responsibility is an interesting discussion that can lead to a lot of philosophical and sociological debate and theorems.  Laws are made to uphold the well-being of a society but what happens when those that enforce the laws are incompasitated by their own desires and will. Is any ruling ever truly lawful and non-beneficial? Let's take a look.

Jonathan Harker (Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992)

Mr. Harker is a young solictor sent to the Carpathian Mountains to sort out the paper work of the decaying Count Dracula. Who could have predicted that this simple business trip would cause havoc on the streets of Victorian London and give rise to one of the most iconic figures in horror? Certainly not Mr. Harker, who remains one of the driest literary/film characters ever. He is simple, methodical and frankly I think Mina would have had a lot more fun with Drac than listening to Jonathan ramble on about estate law for the rest of her years.

Arthur Kipps (The Woman in Black, 2012)

Kipps is yet again a solicitor who stirs the malevolent ghost of The Woman in Black by meddling in her house and her affairs. The 2012 film (based on the novel by Susan Hill which also spawned a stage play) is concerned with the notion of who claims responsibility and the encroachment of new technology in a small town. The town which has dealt which tragedy caused by the Woman is deathly afraid of new arrivals who might disrupt their tentative peace. But the townsfolk are not aware of the paper work that death brings about. At the passing of the death of Alice Drablow Kipps must spend time in the house to investigate any paper work that may have been overlooked or forgotten. Of course he fails to realize that upper-class reclusive families liked to shove scary and incriminating letters around the house for nosy solicitors to find. 

Kevin Lomax (The Devil's Advocate, 1997)

Lomax is a hot-shot trial lawyer in Florida who after getting a teacher off of sexual assault charges against his young student is invited by Al Pacino (I'm sure he had a character name but let's face it, it's Al Pacino) to earn more money than anyone should at his fancy Manhattan law firm. Lomax offers a glimpse into the seedier side of the law, defending clients who have done a terrible wrong against society and being able to get them a not-guilty sentence based on technicalities or by simply yelling at a young girl. The Devil's Advocate falls somewhere between an extended Law and Order episode and an old-school Morality Play. Morality Plays were popular in the Medieval era and usually followed an everyman kind of character as he is confronted with various sins and temptations and eventually learns to pick a godly life over a sinful life. Lomax faces every over the top temptation possible and must ultimately reject his uncanny ability of cheat the system. 

What we can see through these characters is lawyer as anti-hero or a hero with a sinister task. While all three of these characters are motivated by money in some regard they must traverse to a realm of evil and by tresspassing into it disturb some kind of evil. While that evil does not necessarily impact them initially, through cause and effect they are blamed to some extent for the results of the evil.

No matter what realm of law the lawyer is in, their actions almost always affect the innocent whether it be children or their friends and family. The lawyers are forced to pay by watching those around them suffer. Their trauma also broadens to society once they become aware of who has trespassed. Through the use of the lawyer character these films examine the responsibility of those who must uphold the law but are dealing with internal conflicts throughout.

What is most interesting to me about lawyers in horror films specifically is that they are tasked to uphold contemporary laws and procedures. Through the course of the film they discover that they are grappling with older forces that have dire consequences that they cannot necessarily explain to those who they report to. It's a fascinating look at our current needs vs the needs of the old world that like to remind us that it is always there just on the peripheries, watching and waiting.

In summation...
The Laywer
Pros: Lots of money if successful
Cons: A lot friends and family die if you are successful
Bottom Line: More room in your fancy condo