Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Horror Genres: Horror Comedy

I think we can agree that horror films are about catharsis to a certain degree. Engaging yourself and bringing on stress followed by (hopefully) a release of some of that pent-up energy is one of the elements that brings me back to the genre time and again. When it works, it's amazing. When it doesn't, it's frustrating. These are similar problems you'll find in the horror-porn genre. But this is a family friendly blog (-ish), so let's stay on topic of the horror comedy, the next best thing to horror-porn.

Now, we can't talk about horror comedies without talking about Gallows Humour, which is essentially a situation that is funny in the face of a hopeless situation. The term and theory was created by Freud of all people in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor) in which he states: "The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure." Essentially Gallows Humour aims to deflate the power of the aggressor and give power back to the victim. It is commonly thought of as originating in Europe and took root in North America after World War II. It is a coping mechanism that is dealt out by those who must face uncertainty or probable death and what better place to employ that feeling than in a horror movie? If you can make an audience cower in fear and laugh out loud you're doing more than a little right.

We can trace Horror Comdies back to the 1920s but probably the most famous example from the black and white days is Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. While it involves a ridiculously complex plot it is a great example of subverting the genre by attempting to make two normalized, pre-established characters and mashing them up. As you can see in the tag-line below "It's a grand new idea for FUN" the emphasis is clearly on mocking what the terror is and circumventing its traditional role.

In the 60s and 70s you had films like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Fearless Vampire Killers which followed the Abbott & Costello model of placing the emphasis on comedy. One of the first films to truly marry the concepts of horror and comedy was An American Werewolf in London (I know this is conjecture but it's my blog and I'm always right). Fucking John Landis scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid with this movie and Rick Baker's make-up effect are groundbreaking AND traumatizing which is no easy feat. I saw this movie waaaaaaaaaay too young and am therefore hard pressed to really believe it's a comedy. But a Wikipedia page can't be wrong.

In An American Werewolf in Paris he wears a barrett 
Now we're going to talk about the all time great film series, The Evil Dead. Words cannot express how much I love this movie and I can't count how many times I've seen it. It was made for nothing. It deeply distrubing but also goddamn funny. It hits the head on the horror-comedy nail. It is a mixture of low-budget shlock combined with in depth knowledge of the genre and a perfect leading man.

A group of friends go up to a secluded cabin and uncover the Necromonmicon. After playing a translation of the book trickster spirits come after them leaving only Ash (Bruce Campbell) standing. The film it's the heights of insanity but because of constraints of budget, location etc it never goes too crazy. The first two film essentially use the same plot (due to rights restrictions which prevented director Sam Rami from using footage from the first film for recap purposes) which leads right into Army of Darkness. Army of Darkness definitely fits into the comedy label but is a great addition to the series. I think the Evil Dead series is the gold standard of horror comedy because it combines the two genres fully and nothing can beat "The name's Ash. Housewares."

Well, we're almost at the end of the Horror Genre series. To check out the original and subsequent posts click here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dystopian Dream Girl

My friends! I'm back from my first vacation in about 3 years. As you can guess I spent it under the table at a pub being fed white wine through a funnel.

That's right, I was in England. And seeing my lovely family and staying in London reminded me of a few things that we we take for granted - mainly the lack of riots, a stable economy and a population that is not forever engaged in a struggle with the government. To be fair, things aren't looking too good across Europe. Or in Libya.

In any event, the world around us is going to hell in a hand basket. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular visions of the future.

Children of Men (2006)

Pro: Clive Owen
Con: Population slowly dying.
Pro: Michael Caine
Con: Dies
Pro: There may be hope at the end!
Con: Clive Owen dies.

Blade Runner (1982)

Pro: Lots of Asian-esque food
Con: Evil Robots
Pro: Darryl Hannah's hair
Con: Sean Young's hair
Pro: It's Philip K. Dick's version of the future
Con: Ridley Scott's complete ignorance of the book it's based on.

Reign of Fire (2002)

Pro: After the world is all but destroyed by dragons, all men become impossibly ripped
Con: Dragons
Pro: Matthew McConaughey's ability to fly through the air with an axe
Con: Christian Bale's stink-face ability
Pro: Publicized the very real threat of sleeping dragons under London.
Con: Christian Bale left in charge to rebuild. (see also: Terminator Salvation)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Destination Unknown: Quadrilogy

I cannot tell a lie. I've been kind of agonizing over this post because... well.... I kind of dug Final Destination 4. Sorry The Final Destination. I know everyone out there seems to have pegged it as an enormous waste of time and indeed, I learned nothing about human strife, suffering or thought but I rolled my eyes the least amount of times than in any of the other Destinations. That's got to count for something, right? RIGHT?!?!?!

Now, it helps that it stars this guy:
who is cute as fuck. So there. I was able to spend a good portion of the film objectifying a man. And it was great.

Now, in all seriousness. The Final Destination deals a lot more in "plot" than advancing the mythology of the piece which in essence makes it a really great throw away though, I imagine, a bit of a pisser when you're actually invested in the damn series. Now I'm being smarmy and putting plot in quotation marks because this isn't exactly Citizen Kane. It's a pseudo teen slasher. Using a model we've seen 3 times before. A group of young'uns and some other people avoid death only to have it come after them. Then they get clever, think they've beat it but no, and it comes after them some more. I give FD4 credit for doing away with all the 9/11 junk. It didn't work and it's out of place in a popcorn CW-lite film.

My problem with the FD mythology is there really isn't one. It kind of rambles on about how death is after us. Well, death and taxes are two of our few certainties in life and if we're to believe in a plan larger than ourselves than maybe it's more important than us. The more these films focused on the mythology of Death's plan the more it became more about cheating God-like forces rather than simply trying to survive something.

The second you open the can of worms of Death's plan, you have to follow through with it. You can't just bring up 9/11 and not delve into the implications of that. Perhaps it was studio meddling or something that got cut out in editing but The Final Destination felt a lot more urgent when you do away with all the in-depth thinking that doesn't really go anywhere. For my money it was a short, sharp thriller about a group of attractive people trying to survive. Also there's a great sequence where a character gets his junk sucked into a pool drain.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Destination Unknown: La Tercera Parte

And I'm back for Final Destination 3: Roller Coaster Of More Of The Same. I did actually start this one as a live blog but my witty remarks were repeating themselves so I thought I'd do a straight-up review so as not to tarnish the good name of the live blog.

With Death having wrapped up the remnants of the first film in the second we're on to some new premonition. And this time it's on a roller coaster. OF FEAR. Well, not really. Days before their graduation most of the class gets wiped out in a freak (wait for it) roller coaster accident.One girl freaks out enough that some of them leave while the others go along to their fiery fiery death. Those who manage to escape are pursued relentlessly by Death who likes to shoot nails through your face.

This is the first film to centre on a group of teens rather than expound to a larger demographic. The strange thing is that none of these characters really seem to notice that a bunch of their classmates just died. In fact, everyone seems pretty cavalier about the whole stitch. Only two characters are privy to the knowledge that their deaths are around the next corner, but being the goody-two-shoes they are they try to warn their classmates.

Cut to multiple scenes just like this.

MAIN CHARACTER 1: Seriously, Death is after us and you're going to die.
MAIN CHARACTER 2: We think we have a way to cheat it but we have to work together!
SUPPORTING CHARACTER receives a brutal trauma, as predicted in a set of photos that MAIN CHARACTER 1 took the night of the accident, killing them.
MAIN CHARACTER 1: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
MAIN CHARACTER 2: You know what would really piss Death off? If we had sex.  

Now, let's talk for a moment about these pictures. The Final Girl took some photos before that accident that in some way predict the death of her classmates. She and the Sensitive Jock spend the majority of the film pouring over them to figure out some clues to prevent their deaths. Apparently this theory goes all the way back to Abe Lincoln and (in poor taste) 9/11. I have a hard time believing that 9/11 had anything to do with Death needing to play catch up and it adds an uneven tone to the fun-death-loving set of film.

Leave the film with an unnecessary open ending and that's about the meat of Final Destination 3. I'm not quite sure what the purpose of the third one was other than a cash grab. I was talking with a friend today and we were comparing the Saw and Final Destination franchises. I feel that Saw (though deeply imperfect) has a legitimate claim to a continuing series of films because the game is controlled by human nature and therefore evolves. Final Destination, however, does not. We're all going to die. And with a slew of characters trying to cheat death it feels whiny. None of them do anything for the greater good. They're only really trying to save their own asses.

Well, we've got one more to go. Will it prove me wrong and silence me about my lack of faith in the series?  Does any of this mean anything? Is Tony Todd after me???????

Help me Obi-Wan. You're my only hope. 


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Destination Unknown: Part the Second

I'm back friend-os! And I have to say, today I did a lot of thinking. And not just about shopping. I feel like I was a little too hard on Final Destination. I'm obviously not going to go back and edit anything I wrote (otherwise it's not a live blog is it? And if I did do that the corpse of Baudrillard would come after me. Am I right?!) Anyhoozle. Final Destination is a fun WB-esque horror. And much better than some of the other ones of its time. *cough* Halloween Resurrection *cough*. In any event, on with the show and Final Destination 2. Is death still a thing? Do any of these actors have subsequent careers? Let's find out!

9:31pm A'ight so according to a news report it's a year after the plane crash that began the events in the first destination that was supposed to final. Interestingly, the news reports have picked up on the fact that the survivors of the flight were all killed and that Death's plan is infallible.

9:33pm The production designer is Michael Bolton. I hope it's this Michael Bolton.

9:37pm So some jerk kids are in a car driving to some weekend away and the filmmakers have already inserted at least 3 psych-outs. So far we've had people throwing cigarettes out of a car, someone talking on their phone, another person coked out while driving and one more person drinking while driving. Perhaps, Death's doing us all a favor. These people are jerks. And MAYBE Death put a lot of planning into this and MAYBE just fucking respect some hard work. Plus these deaths are kind of awesome.

9:44pm Bam! It was totes a premonition. If only this girl's friends weren't functional jag-wads then I'd actually care. But because Premonition Girl saw it coming she's blocking the road with her car. 

9:47pm OH SNAP! Another car crashes into her car anyway killing all her friends. Ladies and gentlemen, we have out final girl. We've also got a cokehead, Career Lady, Black Guy, Angry White Guy, a Mother and Son .... dang. They're not even trying to cover up their stereotyping anymore...

9:49pm: Aaaaaaaaaaaaand I'm pretty sure they've copied and pasted Sawa's explanation scene from the first film. Since they're reiterating what happened in the first one...

9:52pm Wow, Final Girl's entire house is covered in the same shade wood paneling. I bet if you were drunk it'd just like an MC Escher painting.

9:53pm Death the first. Angry Young White Guy... who does not workout enough to justify a shirtless scene.... His name's Evan and he has a message from some girl named Tawny. Winning!

9:55pm Oh no! Evan's hand's stuck in a drain. And his appliances are exploding. At least these are realistic depictions of death.

9:58pm The Cute Police Guy is doing research about the Sawa incident on the 2002 version of the internet. Am I the only one that misses Geocities sites?

10:02pm He finds an article about Midriff Girl whose the only survivor and this is the best journalistic sentence ever: "was confined to Sunnybrook mental after claiming Death was trying to kill her."

10:04pm And we learn Midriff has voluntarily committed herself. Luckily she got her hair did before entering the asylum.

10:05pm Now Midriff is reexplaining the rules. A half-hour into the movie.  And gives Final Girl the advice to avoid "anything creepy and ominous".

10:09pm Final Girl calls Midriff a coward which cues several moments of this:

10:12pm Uh oh. I think the mother and son are in for a very unpleasant dentist trip as the CGI water has returned... but this time there are pigeons.

10:14pm The son dies but he literally caused his own death when he startles some pigeons making a construction worker drop a glass plate on him crushing his entire body.

10:16pm Midriff checked herself out of rehab (or whatever) to help them! YAY! And how does she help them? By.... taking them... to Candyman.... for the love of God. I'm getting a beer.

10:19pm Candyman talks cryptically about following the signs and showing off that he knows their names.

10:21pm So Midriff and Final Girl decide that if the pregnant lady who survived the crash lives long enough to give birth then that will throw off Death whole plan. There is really no rhyme or reason to this logic but if they act hard enough then it will work.

10:23pm Police guy abuses his power to put out an APB for the pregnant woman. A totally legit, non-self serving APB.

10:24pm All the survivors are gathered in the Police Guy's loft. Which is a totally great plan where nothing ever has or ever will go wrong.

10:28 Some of them decide to stay at Police Guy's place. Where camping gear keeps falling on them.

10:36pm The remaining survivors are all sitting around in a car talking about how they've all cheated death before. Yes. That's an effective use of time.

10:37pm Now it's revealed that if Midriff and friends hadn't gotten off that plane everyone in the sequel would be dead too. So ... this is a necessary sequel.

10:41pm Death is playing an elaborate version of Mousetrap involving leaking gas. Now I'm sad because I remembered that the version of Mousetrap I had never worked the way it did in the commercial and I used to cry. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME FINAL DESTINATION 2?!?!?!?

10:43pm Pregnant lady is about to give birth. Go remaining survivors! Go!

10:44pm Why are they letting Final Girl with her distracting premonitions drive. Surely there's someone else who can drive at high speeds when death is after you.

10:49pm The chick had the baby!!!!! Yay! No more death! SUCK IT DEATH!

10:50pm And they realize the pregnant lady was never supposed to die in the accident. Another survivor and Midriff die. There is one "Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!" then everyone moves on.

10:51pm Now Final Girl is manning up and sacrificing herself .... if only we had seen this in another movie that would have shown us how this all works out.....

10:54pm Oh wait! Police Guy saved her. This all seems so familiar somehow.....

10:55pm It just occurred to me that Police Guy is like 33 and Final Girl is around 17. Ew.

10:56pm Oh and now both their families are having a barbeque.... And someone blows up. Just like in a Godard film.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Destination Unknown: Part 1

 I'm lucky enough to write for FanGirlTastic and recently scored myself an invite for an advanced screening of Final Destination 5 for review purposes. Since I've only seen the first one I have to catch up on the rest of the series to properly review it and I thought we could all share the warm warming glow of one of the most popular contemporary horror series. 

8:37pm A minute into the movie and there have already been 3 skulls shown. A copy of the play is Death of a Salesman is visible. The word "evil" just flashes across the screen as the 3 writers were credited.

8:39pm Oh my crapping crap. Devon Sawa has a Goo Goo Dolls poster. And a Buckcherry poster. I suddenly wish it was 1996 again.

8:41pm And we're at the airport with a high school class getting ready to board the plane to France for a school trip. All the girls are wearing pale blue twin sets except for one who has bangs and is reading a book. But she's showing her midriff. Jack the gay guy from Dawson's Creek is in this.

8:44pm While at the airport the filmmakers use every chance to work in the word "terminal". And one of the characters has a walkman. This is clearly about the death of technology... No wait... it's not. A character just gave a monologue about taking a dump on the plane.

8:47pm Devon Sawa takes 5 minutes to board the plane while he looks at things with a distinct air of paranoia. It's like he has to keep reminding himself that he's not Devon Sawa in this scene.

8:49pm SEAN WILLIAM SCOTT IS IN THIS!!!!!!!  God, I miss the early aughts.

8:50pm Oh shit, yo. Things are kind of shakey on the plane..... Whoooooa. It's like they're on one those rides at Universal Studios and they are to make the most of because the line was, like, super long. But wait! It was all a dream. Go Sawa go!!! Convince them you're not crazy!!!!

8:52pm Uh oh. The fancy attendant doesn't believe him. But the more attractive members of the class that are already on TV shows do!

8:55pm And the plane bites it. Those guys totally owe Sawa a Coke.

8:57pm A guy just asked if any of them need spiritual counseling.

8:59pm Ok, so we've got Sawa, MidriffGirl, SWS, Nerd Friend, Dawson's Creek, Dawson's Creek's Girlfriend, and Teacher. Let the paranoia and disbelief commence!!!!!

9:02pm Sawa is really torn up about this. He probably needs to have a non-consummated relationship with a girl that likes short tops....

9:03pm Cut to 39 days later... I guess Death has a backlog....

9:04pm Midriff Girl is wearing her blackest inappropriate top for the memorial. She and Sawa share the blankest emotional stare EVAR.

9:08pm *If* I die please don't let my nerdiest friend give a speech. It's just depressing.

9:11pm Oh no you guys! I think the scary water leak is going to get Nerd.

9:12pm AND IT DOES!!!! He dies by strangulation from the shower curtain. And then the CGI water recedes from whence it came so that Nerd's death looks like a suicide. Don't worry. It doesn't really make sense in the movie.

9:16pm Midriff Girl has made a sculpture about how Sawa makes her feel. "Connection" and "incomprehensible" are used, as is the phrase "I can still feel you." I've always been told emotions were complicated.

9:19pm Hey! It's Tony Todd!!! From Candyman!! Being weird and ominous... so y'know... it's a stretch for him.

9:21pm And we're in the midst of a menacing and sloppy exposition scene where Candyman tells us about Death's design.... A completely coherent and necessary scene.

9:24pm According to Sawa the new plan is to cheat death again.

9:25pm Dawson's Creek has a weird testosterone issue with Sawa. And for no reason all the survivors are at a coffee shop. Which leads to Dawson's Creek's Girlfriend breaking up with him then getting hit by a bus. Another one bites the dust.

9:27pm Sawa gets all Miss Marple on Death's ass and figures out the order in which the survivors are going to die. BAM. Suck it death!

9:31pm This Teacher is the poster child for sad single women everywhere.

9:33pm Why won't she die!!!!!!!?????????

9:35pm Holy shit you guys. She's drinking scotch on the rocks and so am I! There truly are no coincidences. I will booby trap my apartment now. Someone please inform my roommate.

9:36pm Oh! Teacher bites it via her TV. I'm going back to my death of technology theory.

9:43pm We're truly in the weeds with this movie. Midriff Girl is having some kind of heart to heart with with Sawa and I imagine it's a beautiful scene about how they'll get through this together but I can't tell BECAUSE SHE FUCKING MUMBLES EVERYTHING!

9:50pm SWS dies unceremoniously while everyone fusses over Dawson's Creek. 

9:53pm Ok, I got bored. All the characters are just looking out of windows so Googled images of Devon Sawa and came up with this:
According to the website he's still single.
Here he is again, "acting".
9:58pm Sawa has figured out he got the order of their deaths wrong and it's Midriff Girl that's next and now he's running to her because she made that terrible sculpture about her feelings.

10:03pm Sawa tells Midriff girl that he'll always be with as he's about to sacrifice himself so she can get away. This after they've had approximately three conversation. Three mumbled, unintelligible conversations.

10:04pm But WAIT!!!! What's this? Friends! Sawa, Midriff and Dawson's Creek are alive! And going on their original trip to France. Awwwwwwwwwwwwww. I kind of want to make a sculpture about how I feel about all this....

10:07pm Uh oh, Sawa's Spidey sense is tingling....

10:08pm I'm going to level with you guys. Some stuff happens. It's suggested another character dies. Then some impossibly lame pop song plays over the credits. This is why horror movies should be rated R.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Horror Genres: Science Fiction

Science fiction is a genre unto itself. I am not debating this. But I would argue that certain science fiction films have a decidedly horror-esque bent to them. Hence they are getting a write up in a blog that will surely be made mandatory reading for students in online or state colleges.

Arguably, the first fully formed work of horror-science-fiction was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which was the first story to give a monster a grounding in the world of science.  In horror-science-fiction there is a definite sense of man being the creator of his own downfall, thereby becoming his own monster.

I put forth that science fiction is definable by its need to ask questions and use questionable practices to reach the answers. There is often an element of Chaos Theory involved as events perceptibly change the course of human existence through small changes to the status quo. Essentially, what we try to control we eventually destroy. Alternative realities that are not far off from our own make up the majority of science fiction premises.

Now, where does the horror come in? I believe it comes when there is a specific, violent threat to the status quo. When the changes that I mentioned above take on physical forms (usually, not always) and become the aggressor in the situation. Taking that definition we can put the following films into the horror-sci-fi category:

28 Days Later
Event Horizon
The Fly
Resident Evil
The Thing
Village of the Damned

What makes these films both sci-fi and horror in my mind is the threat becoming violent. One film I want to talk about in particular in this post is Danny Boyle's Sunshine (2007) which is most definitely a science fiction film and, I would argue, a horror film. A crew is sent to reignite the sun with a massive bomb on the Icarus II spaceship after Earth lost contact with Icarus I. And guess who stumbles upon Icarus I on their journey? And is there maaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyybe something still alive on that ship?

**Beware Los Spoilers**
The super fun horror plot comes at the end. Pinbacker, a crew member on Icarus I has made his way on to the ship and has begun sabotaging the mission in hopes of being "one man alone with God." This move takes us from psychological thriller to a full out slasher film. I know a lot of critics had a problem with the last reel of the film but for me Sunshine is about human nature. Humanity has come together to pitch in the remaining resources to create a bomb that would restart the sun and of course humanity gets in the way. 

In science fiction we can most clearly see the prejudices against horror of being a lowly form of entertainment. Just because there's a killer on board does not automatically make a film bad.  It makes it a challenging film. You don't have to love it but the film shouldn't be written off because of the story. While Sunshine and most science fiction films are based on the conceit that the world should be made better through advancements, there is a reason we test on animals first.