Friday, May 27, 2011

Horror Genres: Supernatural

To be fair, almost every horror film has a little bit of the supernatural in them. It feeds our desire to explain the unexplainable, or at least observe it. Hence, the inherent trickiness of this post. If most horror films have a bit of the supernatural in them then how do you write about them? Well, there are a lot of ways... Ok, I'm stalling.

I LOVE supernatural horror. (but really who doesn't? seriously, if you don't let me know...) They were always the ones that scared me the most. But is not A Nightmare On Elm Street supernatural? Well, yes. But it's more slasher. As are Halloween and Friday the 13th seeing as the killer comes back again and again and again with little to no explanation. Ok, when Jason's corpse gets a metal rod stuck in him and comes back to life AFTER the rod is struck by lighting... well, that's just science. I think.



Ok, enough stalling. Let's start with the actual definition of "supernatural":
1. of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
2.of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to god or a deity.
3.of a superlative degree; preternatural: a missile of supernatural speed.
So, basically anything that is unexplained. It's the noise that you hear late at night that you've never heard before. It's the thing you see out of the corner of your eye that you can't explain. Or it's the little girl on the bed having waaaaay too good a time with that crucifix. 
 
Even though my goal with these posts is to explore the essence of different sub-genres of horror, some of the sub-genres have sub-sub-genres. How meta is that??? (answer: no idea, Scream 4 only confused me more about the use of the word "meta". Don't worry, I don't think most of the population knows how to use the word "meta")

So here's my proposed sub-genre breakdown. Bare in mind what I've already covered in terms of genre (Slashers, Literary Monsters, Creature Features and there's still more to come... see the original post here!) So I'm going to try and deal with the purely supernatural, which in my mind means: 

-Ghosts
-Posession
-Demonic 
-Witches

Ghosts... oh, those wacky, wacky ghosts. Ghosts are responsible for more shenanigans in movies than you can shake a stick at. Remember when they did the live action version of Caspar the Friendly Ghost and the CGI Caspar turned into Devon Sawa? Yeah, not those kind of ghosts. I'm talking about the less than friendly ghosts that can hurt you. And sometimes even possess you. 

Let's take a look at The Shining (1980) as an example of two sub-sub genres rolled into one. If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know about my hard-on for the The Shining. It simply can't be beat in my mind. Not only is it a beautifully crafted movie but the artistic merit is better than most mainstream films. Like all great stories it's a simple one. Family goes to hotel to look after it in the off-season. Hotel is filled with ghosts. Ghost possess father. Chaos ensues. 
 
 

The Shining is an encyclopaedia of the supernatural. Little is explained except for a mention of a favourite trope of Stephen King's, building something on an Indian Burial ground, but within the Overlook Hotel there are few limitations for these ghosts. They can be everywhere and nowhere and appear in different forms, like your already emotionally unstable father. 

Another purer ghost story is something like The Ring (which I like better than Ringu and it's my blog so there). The confines for this story is once you watch a creepy art school video you have seven terrifying days to live before the spirit of an evil little girl comes after you through your TV screen. The Ring is a creepy fucking movie that traumatized most people I know. 
 
 

As for Possession/Demonic, well I'd have to say Paranormal Activity does it best for me. It also, in my mind stays out of the Satanic genre because the characters don't call in a priest, they call in a psychic. Paranormal Activity deals in the loss of control and with the supposed reality of the situation rather than an emphasis on the faith of the characters. 
 
 

Now, to witches. For me, witches didn't really fall into any other category. They exist in literature but their stories almost always take on a power and control bent rather than a time specific story which is a must for literary horror. (Dracula 2000 being the exception) Take for instance Suspiria (1977) it's about a dance school run by witches. And boy oh boy do these witches like to terrorize their students. Not for any particular reasons (other than bitches be crazy) but y'know, just cause.
 
 

Now if you're sensing a pattern, you're not imagining it. The creepiness of the supernatural comes from an almost complete lack of rhyme or reason. It doesn't matter if you're good or bad, if you fall under the supernatural's awareness it will come after you. Unrelentingly. Because, let's face it, it's not like ghosts/demons/witches have to do their taxes or go to work. Haunting is their 24 hour a day job. And business is booming.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vampires Dream of Electric Sheep

I'm a sucker for things of a dystopian nature which is why I was so excited about Priest (2011). And it has vampires. And people doing ninja stuff. That's so cool. Right? RIGHT????


Well, the movie as a whole kind of turns into a blur. A real pretty blur. It's one of those movies that if I came in at any point and tried to watch it without seeing the titles it could be any movie in the genre like Blade Runner, Marathon Man, V for Vendetta, Book of Eli, I Am Legend or Legion. The latter sharing the same star and director as Priest, making Paul Bettany and Scott Stewart the De Niro and Scorsese of mediocre, CGI laden supernatural thrillers.

The whole thing smacks of effort. Each actor plays every scene at about 11, every battle is built up waaaay too much and characters bicker endlessly. In fact, there was so much stopping and talking and arguing and looking remorseful and then sitting around I began to feel like this is the Chekhov of mediocre, CGI laden supernatural thrillers.

So what's all the talking about? Well, Paul Bettany is a priest named Priest, though I liked pretending that his name was actually Greg. Or Sam. And, like, a really really really long time ago the vampires were going to wipe out all of humanity but then the Church discovered people that could kick ass and sent them to deal with the vampires. And they did such a good job that the priests rendered themselves unemployed. But now the vampire threat is back but no one believes it except Priest because they took his niece. So Priest goes rogue and starts kicking ass.



What's never actually answered is how this religious task force was chosen. One character mentions they were mainly taken as children. So, I guess next time you see a kid jumping in slow motion you should get their number in case there is a threat of the vampire variety. What's also never answered is what the fuck is up with these vampires? They seems to have wandered out of an early computer test for I Am Legend or Resident Evil. They're basically a big pair of teeth, no eyes and a lot of drool. Then you have your main villain, the aptly named Black Hat, the first human/vampire hybrid because apparently it had never occurred to the Queen vampire to do that before.

This is a movie filled with bizarre sweeping statements and images that are never explained. WHY don't the priests use guns? The one time a gun is successfully used in the movie it works out pretty fucking well. WHY are they keeping the remaining vampires in camps? It seems like it'd be a pretty great idea to, y'know, just get rid of the species that was going to destroy your population. WHY does no one have a fucking name? It's like the writers put in place holders saying that they'd totally come up with names in the next draft. I realize the answers to these questions and more is probably in the graphic novel of which it is based. But it feels like the movie is using it's graphic novel cred as a crutch to get away with not explaining things. I can hear the DVD commentary now, "you know, the graphic novel really explains the back story...."

Priest is like a bizarre sampling platter of sci-fi and horror tropes. Even as I write this I'm remembering bits and pieces that were kind of important to the plot then kind of not... Had they bothered to explore anyone of them at length, we might have had something worth watching rather than an extended trailer for a sequel  that, God-willing, will never happen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hang Each Night In Rapture

It's been a pleasure knowing all of you. With the impending Rapture approaching tomorrow I've said all my final goodbyes and Scare-Tactic is the last one. If you didn't get a personal goodbye from me it, it's because you've never been that important to me.

In the spirit of learning I thought we could take some time to look at how horror movies handle the Rapture/End of Days/Catholic mumbo-jumbo...

Robots/Hardware



Sure we think we're all fine and dandy living like the Jetsons but what happens when Rosie becomes self-aware and decides she wants more than one freaking wheel? Huh? HUH??!?!??!?!?!

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Not good. Unless your mom has been talking about something like this for a while and been working out like someone who's scared her husband will leave, I'd say start doing drugs and hos now.

Zombie Apocolypse



In it's infinite wisdom the legit CDC has come out with a How-To-Survive-A-Zombie-Attack guide. Those nerds clearly think that Baby Jesus is coming to Earth and spent their last weeks making that guide.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Pretty good. If there's any attack horror fans are prepared to handle, it's a Zombie apocalypse. Ditch your friends and loved ones, they'll only hold you back, and get thee out of the city. If movies have taught me anything it's that there are hotter people waiting for you.

Alien Invasion



Alien Invasions are generally used for family bonding time (see: Signs and The Day The Earth Stood Still) so if aliens land, hook up with family members you've had past issues with. This will be the perfect time to work them out.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Unless it's E.T. you blow those fuckers brains out and you'll be fine. Tip: Assume their brains are in their groin area. 


Supernatural



I'm going to level with you. This kind of ending doesn't end well because there are no rules. Anything can happen and rules can be made up as terror goes.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Really not good. Your best bet is to hook up with some peeps and try to be the least crazy.

So best of luck to all of you. I know I've got my hand-basket ready.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Terrible Performances in Horror: Mia Farrow in The Omen (2006)

There's nothing more spectacular than an icon falling from grace. Ok, maybe the laugh of a child or something... but in our case I'm referring to Rosemary herself, Mia Farrow.

Rosemary's Baby is one of my favourite movies and an incredibly interesting look at femininity in the 1960s. And Farrow is great in it, very much helped by a boss hair cut. After the fervour and success of baring the Devil's baby she hooked-up with Woody Allen, named one of their kids Satchel and well... it didn't go well from there. She stayed quiet professionally but busted her ass in her charity work still appearing in the occasional play or film.

Then 2006 rolled around. Some studio executive realized the date June 6, 2006 would be coming and decided, nay, prophesized that The Omen was due for a remake.

They then called up Liev Schreiber for the Gregory Peck choice (awesome) and Julia Stiles for the Lee Remick role(um....). But who, oh, who would play the evil nanny Mrs Baylock? Why, what about the the chick who was totally already okay with a devil baby already??

I'll give the producers credit, it's a pretty cute gimmick casting Mia Farrow as the Devil's minion. But a gimmick cannot work on its own. It must have a purpose. Throughout the whole movie she veers between vacant stares and spider-monkey attacks. It's nothing if not consistent.

The hat says it all. This is the sexy version of Mrs Baylock.
In any event, Farrow is up against more than she can handle by living  up to her own lineage as well as Billie Whitelaw's original Mrs. Baylock which had a side of extra-creepy. Sometimes being in a movie just to hang out with the chick in Save the Last Dance simply isn't worth it....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hanna-Bana-Bo-Bana



Mid-way through Joe Wright's Hanna, I realized my problem with it. I wanted to watch the Cate Blanchett movie. I wanted to watch the Eric Bana movie. Hell, I was pretty happy with the wacky-British-family movie. What I did not want to see was the Saoirse Ronan movie. Which is a bitch, since she plays Hanna.

A lot of people I know, and people I respect, liked this movie. It just angered the crap out of me. If I have to see another over-the-top metaphor about becoming a woman, people are going to get punched. The sentiments and archetypal figures just fall flat and become meaningless after a while. The thin guise of the plot is, in fact, so simple that the messy script and uneven direction only serve to complicate an unnecessary story. But hell, let's give this so-called story a brief description. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a girl being raised in the wilds of Finland. Her father (Eric Bana) is a former CIA operative. He trains Hanna to be an assassin to eventually go up against the shady current CIA operative Marissa (Cate Blanchett). Hanna purposefully gets captured, breaks out of a compound and spends the rest of the movie trying to follow her father's rendez-vous plan which winds up with them meeting at the Grimm's house in Berlin.

Hey! You know what's a metaphor???? Meeting up at the fucking Grimm's House. Holy shit! Is it a metaphor for womanhood like every single one of those stories is about the acceptance of a female shame??? Wow. I think by the time Cate Blanchett emerges from the oversized mouth of a wolf my eyes rolled so hard it was audible. It doesn't help that Ronan is made up to look like a decrepit Stevie Nicks and that she's managed to maintain the exact same expression in Atonement and The Lovely Bones. The ethereal stuff is boring. But maybe only to me because she seems to keep getting cast in major roles. To me, she is the epitome of the nonthreatening female. Even knowing her character is a highly trained assassin, I was not the least bit intimidated. She is yet another boring, attractive, blank slate. If we're talking young actresses, give me Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) any day. Give me a woman, old or young, that displays more than nonthreatening beauty. Give me some intelligence and some sense of conflict. Give me something to relate to. Not an over-simplified, glorified version of purity and femininity.

That being said, Blanchett and Bana do a lot with hidiously underwritten parts. Their dynamics are engaging and their scenes the best shot in the whole movie. The British family that Hanna hooks up with for a while are straight out of the best film Wes Anderson never made.

Hanna's getting my rough treatment because it hit my pet peeve right on the head. There are some truly inspired moments. Too bad none of them include the main character.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Horror Genre: Slashers



Recipe For A Slasher:

1. A location with a past
       -a dash of collective secret/urban legend
       -a soupcon of shared trauma that has in some way stunted the location

2. A Killer with a vague motive
       - beat in a sense of loss or witness of harm
       - fold in a phallic themed weapon
       - sprinkle liberally with un-killableness

3. A group of local young people.
       -should be taken from the same stock as the dash of the collective trauma
       - be sure to include a Final Girl, otherwise your Slasher will not rise
        -boil until all their personalities meld into one.

I love me some slasher movies. I take pride in knowing a lot about them (by no means have I seen every one of them) but I like to think I'd be the one to make it out of the woods/town/dreamscape ... I mean, it sucks and all my friends would be dead, but I look at it like the potential for a social upgrade.

The classic trifecta of slasher films would have to be Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street.  But that list also doesn't include Black Christmas, Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Peeping Tom, Scream and many, many others. For a sub-genre that's so formulaic it also spawns some of the most impassioned debates. For everything the three biggies have they lack something one of the smaller ones do.

My personal favourite is Nightmare On Elm Street. It's the most experimental and ambitious and it really pulls off a lot of what it sets out to do. My favourite all time scene is when the bloody bag containing Tina gets dragged along the hallways of the school. It still gives me chills. It also contains my favourite Final Girl Nancy Thompson. While the other major Final Girls fight in hopes to survive, Nancy fight and wins... at least in the original version Wes Craven wanted.

Slasher films are a mixed bag. For every great one, there are 10 God-awful ones. It's a use-with-caution or with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility kind of situation. But hey, if you don't go off into the woods alone, you'll never know if you make it to the sequel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Horror Movie Coolie: Philip Stone as Delbert Grady in The Shining (1980)



I cannot talk about much I love The Shining without talking about Delbert Grady. The film is crazy (mostly due to Nicholson) but the genius of the film is the quiet moments that lead to the deeply shocking and upsetting moments.

My favourite scene in the movie has to be when Jack Torrance encounters the ghost of the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady. For a movie filled with one of the most over the top performances EVAR, this scene is surprisingly quiet and ominous. Philip Stone portrays the mild-mannered thing to utter perfection and his quiet menace still gives me chills. Bonus points for being portrayed as Moe in the Simpson satire of it.