Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Ain't 'Fraid of No Ghost

The films Lovely Molly (2012) and The Haunting of Julia aka Full Circle (1977) have little in common except for the plot device of a woman being hounded by some kind of demonic ghost figure which could either be real or simply her coping mechanism for a more deeply routed mental illness. The films both tackle this plight in different ways but the notion of reality and unreality is deeply present in both. While both films end on the note that it was a supernatural entity tormenting them it is still ambiguous enough for it to be argued as a mental illness. It is a great device meant to provoke a (hopefully) thoughtful discussion after the film ends about what has caused the terrors we have just witnessed; the women or something worse?

In The Haunting of Julia (aka Full Circle) Mia Farrow plays Julia Lofting who after the traumatic and accidental death of her daughter leaves her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea channeling the same creepy stalkerness that he had in Black Christmas) and moves into a new home. But the new home is evil, EVIL I tells you. After a seance, the psychic goes cray-cray and mumbles about a child being present. Julia, deperate to believe she hasn't lost her child forever tries to interact with the ghost while an unseen force starts offing all those who enter the house by themselves.

Lovely Molly follows the titular Molly (Gretchen Lodge who looks like the saddest version of Chloe Sevigny) a newlywed who moves into her family's old home. With both parents dead the only family she has is her sister, Molly is the quintessential forgotten person. Both her sister and her husband drop clues as heavy as Acme weights about Molly's substance abuse past which also adds to Molly's unreliable narrator quality and grounds the film in a cycle of physical and substance abuse. Since they're cash strapped, Molly's husband works as a truck driver and is gone for long stretches as time which of course gives Molly enough time to fall prey to her addictions and/or some kind of demon entity.

Looking at both films, it's the women who are traumatized after being failed by a nuclear family structure. Julia, though not for lack of trying, failed as a mother. Molly, has been failed by her family and is failing as a wife. Both Molly and Julia are in desperately fragile states. Julia cries most of the time and Molly if she's not crying is walking around naked. They are babes in the woods cast out for the structure they believed in and achieved only to be let down by them.

When Eli Roth was promoting The Last Exorcism (2010) he spoke of the nature of harming women in horror films, "with a possessed girl, you instantly feel protective of her. Teenage boys can be violent and dangerous already, so when they're possessed, you don't see much of a difference." We are unable to separate our notions of women from daughters and wives. While I enjoyed both of these films, (I'd say The Haunting of Julia is a must see, Lovely Molly is just okay) we are unable to truly talk about women if they are not within a family context.

I'm more forgiving of The Haunting of Julia. It was made in the 1970s and it is about a woman struggling to break free. Lovely Molly is about a young woman with no real agency, she is a victim and suffers for the failings of those around her. While Lodge gives a great performance, it's exhausting watching someone who's main character trait is that they're sad. I wish they'd given Molly some kind of interior life that was not defined by her deceased father or her not very present husband.

While I think both films illustrate the lack of options presented to women, I wish Lovely Molly had allowed Molly to fight back. Ninety or so minutes of a woman cowering and being assaulted frankly does little for me. The Haunting of Julia is more ambiguous and more interesting. It does not come down on any one side of victimhood but allows the viewer to take away from it what they wish. While The Haunting of Julia is a more complete film, Lovely Molly is riddled with cliches. I believed in Julia and hoped for her survival, Molly is like waiting for water to boil; you know it will happen but it takes so damn long to get there.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Winter of our Discontent

Horror films are reliant on having sad plots. If there's not a death or a past trauma then there isn't a lot to build something scary off of, is there? But most horror film tread the line of bleak plots and new beginnings (ie a family moves in to a haunted house, the ghost that haunts those woods dies years ago) which gives the characters distance from the trauma, they are removed from it.

In films, particularly exploitation films of the 70s and some more recent found footage horror films deal with a present trauma. Something that is occurring for the first time in the world of the film. These horror films are what I like to call B.A.F. (Bleak As Fuck) they are so morose and sad that they are a chore to get through in many cases. Most recently some of us may have seen Megan Is Missing (2011) a found footage thriller/horror about the dangers of online chat rooms. (BJ-C over at Day of the Woman has a great write up about it here) This film is a slog to get through. It repeatedly reminds us of the dangers in our own lives. It's goal is to seem familiar and particular to us and our worldview which is part of the problem.

I am a huge believer of the spoonful-of-sugar method. If you can entertain your audience then you will have access to a bigger portion of them. The plot of Megan is Missing and something like The Poughkeepsie Tapes are too on the nose. If we are to believe there's a serial killer in every town and every person on the internet wants to kidnap us it makes for a rather bleak world view. Moreover is sensationalizes the trauma of actual cases like these. Since the filmmakers for the movies have said that these films (Megan is Missing and The Poughkeepsie Tapes) are a composite of real cases it brings a rational fear to a largely irrational medium.

Straight up, I don't like these films. They drag, they are borderline snuff films and frankly fail at delivering some kind of larger world view or moral implication. If we look at other sad horror films they are framed like fairy tales, their world is a complete and complicated world. By watching a film like Carrie or The Fly or The Shining we gain a larger understanding of humanity. In The Poughkeepsie Tapes the film is intercut with videos a serial killer made and left for police and interviews with the police that tried to catch him it is specific and obsessive. There is nothing but perverse titillation. 

I think the core problem with these films is that the victims remain victims (you could easily say the same thing about characters in a Saw or Hostel movie). They do not exist in the larger world, we have little to no context about them. Films work when they teach us something about the larger world. The Shining teaches us about family and intimacy, Carrie teaches us about becoming a woman and repression and The Fly teaches us about romantic relationships. They are thrilling visceral movies but they also work allegorically. Megan is Missing and The Poughkeepsie Tapes work only to disturb and frighten. They have so little context and understanding of the world that to me they seem eerily close to snuff films.

I had a conversation last night about this very topic. The other person said, well wouldn't something like Martyrs fit into that context? I think something like Martyrs or Inside comes very close to that but it is our identification with the victims, their perpetrators and their very human struggles that elevates them to a personal and intimate level which in my mind makes them even more terrifying. Something like High Tension would fit in with my critique of Megan is Missing and The Poughkeepsie Tapes because there is no rhyme or reason.We understand so little of the victims and so little of the aggressors. All we are left with is that people are evil. However, simply being "evil" or "sick" isn't the answer. It's an excuse to shock. But when the shocks become boring and forgettable then we as an audience have learned little else except, don't talk to strangers. I would say it's a greater challenge and accomplishment to examine the hows and whys of acts like this, not merely shock us with disturbing images.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Best of 2012

I hesitate to say 2012 was a lackluster year. I think 2012 showed promise. Very little blew me away in genre films but those that did, holy shitpoops they were amazing. I think 2012 was the year of the much played out sequels (Underworld 4, Paranormal Activity 4) and shockingly new concepts and ideas (Cabin in the Woods). We're seeing better independent films of a higher quality get distribution and I hope against hope that this is a sign of thing to come. Here a list of things you must see if you want to make it to 2013.

5. The Woman in Black
 I think this is a vastly underrated gem of a movie. It is a simple, yet fantastically scary ghost story. And it doesn't try to be anything more. The Woman in Black doesn't try to mix genres or make some big moral statement, it works through a chilling effectiveness and precision.

4. A Fantastic Fear of Everything
 I reviewed this film for Famous Monsters (you can read the full review ici) and it's a truly wonderful movie that surprised me. It came out in the UK to middling reviews which was shocking to me. It's a fantastic movie and it features Claire Higgins from Hellraiser. It's a weird blend of comedy, mystery and off-the-wall oddities. It's beautifully shot and really pushes the audience to engage with the film in different ways throughout. The only hitch is, you should probably be a Simon Pegg fan if you're going into it. Luckily, I am and as he's in every scene, his style of humour really dictates the movie.A Fantastic Fear of Everything is a true filmmaking accomplishment as it establishes a whole world unto itself. One that is both Dickensian, contemporary and all around awesome.

3. American Horror Story Season 2
 While we're only half-way through the current season, I'm really enjoying the twists and turns Ryan Murphy & co are taking us on this year. For those of you that don't know, I'm recapping this season for Famous Monsters so if you'd like my more detailed take on each episode you can find them here. I know a lot of people are concerned that this season won't be able to pay off what they've set up, but they've made a lot of headway in the last few episodes and if anything you should watch this for the performances alone. From Zachary Quinto to Jessica Lange everyone's hamming it up and loving it. Plus you get to see the Maroon 5 guy brutally executed. Repeatedly.

2. Crave
 This is another one I've reviewed for Famous Monsters (here) but I haven't been able to shake Charles de Lauzirika's masterpiece since catching it at Toronto After Dark this year. Part Taxi Driver, part romantic comedy, all dark Crave is such a fantastic film that I'm loathe to give anything else away but all I can say is see it, see it now!!!

1. Cabin in the Woods
 This was the most entertainingly impressive film of the year. I ran out and bought it on DVD the second it came out. I've watched it several times and notice something new about it every time. I love, love, LOVE this movie. To me, it's a love letter to horror fans that's well-written, brilliantly acted and well shot. As much as I wish those things weren't an anomaly to the horror genre, they are.  And director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon do a fantastic job of making then smashing every horror cliche ever.

NB: My all around favourite movie of the year was Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. See. It. Now.

A few other cool things that happened this year:

I was a guest twice on my favourite podcast Rewatchability talking about The Faculty and The Craft.

I made an appearance on the lovely Lianne Spiderbaby's Fright Bytes.

My Top 5 pick over at Canuxploitation.

My interview with Richard Crouse about his fantastic book Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils.

I wrote two big horror articles over at What Culture one on slashers and another big one all about everyone's favourite horror mysteries...

And if anyone out there is still searching for the perfect gift for the horror lover in their life, check out my list over at Biff Bam Pop.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Modest Proposal

Full Title:  A Modest Proposal for Preventing Horror Fans from Becoming a Burden to the All Powerful Studios and Ensuring that the General Publik's Worst Fears about Horror Remain Intact. 

It is melancholy to think that our children might walk through a cinema without ever knowing the joys of seeing another remake. That our great filmmakers must be shackled to the idea of creating new stories and works to share with a paying (and sometimes not paying) audience when they could be focused on what set ups could use more CG and explosions. Films do not need to be original. We all know that the first rule of storytelling is to write what you know, and the filmmakers that crawled out of their parents basements in the 1990s are right to portray and re-"imagine" the stories they saw on a flickering old television.

So what are we to when we run out of classics to remake? How many stories or variations of stories could there possibly be? I think all parties can agree that to remain entranced by this notion of "new-ness" will lead to the assured decay of our society. Look at our rampaging technology! Surely there can be no better use for it than to painfully (or is that painstakingly) insert it into films that once required none of these things. Howard's End is desperately in need of more CGI-laden explosions.

So how do we rectify the situation when we run out of classic films? Remake films from the last ten years! Or do remakes of remakes!! How do you think we achieved the onscreen glory between Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig in The Invasion? Or the bizarrely titled prequel of The Thing, entitled The Thing.Sheer certinity, that's how it's done. What about all these low-budget found footage horror films. Remake them! The Devil Inside starring Miley Cyrus and Someone from Twilight!! Remake The Ring! It's been two years since the remake of Let the Right One In, remake it again!!

If we look at the amount of films that infiltrate our collective conciousness it is simply too much. We need only a handful of stories to entertain the masses. This is what I propose. Hire a small subset of actors (I'm thinking Jeremy Renner, Channing Tatum, Robert DeNiro, Michael Fassbender, Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel) have them play out scenes full of unspecified dialogue then add everything else in post. To wit! Here is an excerpt from a script I have composed for this very purpose.....

JEREMY RENNER: (smolderingly) I'M SO MAD!!

CHANNING TATUM: Why are you so mad?

JEREMY: RENNER: Because I can't get these darn things to work!


ROBERT DENIRO: Are you silly? Those things!!

JESSICA BIEL: Don't worry about those things. Worry about these things!

GERARD BUTLER: I thought I was the only one that worried about those things!!

JEREMY RENNER: I'm just happy these finally brought us all together.


Have all the actors play the scene with their palms open towards the camera and constantly gesture toward an object that isn't there yet but will be digitally inserted later on. If this were being played as a horror movie the "thing" could be a set of car keys because they need get away from a killer and the "things" Jessica Biel is talking about are her boobs. (if this scene were a drama the "thing" could be cancer and the "things" Jessica Biel refers to could be her boobs.)

I do cannot see any single rational person having a problem with having the same cast of actor remake the same movies time and again. If the box office is any indication (and by my indication it is every indication) that people like the same thing over and over again. There is no time to have VHSs linger on the shelves of video stores collecting a small but loyal following! We need new disposable entertainment. Lower the costs, produce more and for heaven's sake, don't let them think!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trailer Review: Mama (2013) - Beware the CGI Demons

So I've watched this trailer a couple times and I'm getting a sense of deja vu. Well, emotional deja vu. The trailer for Mama (2013) is giving me the same excitement that I initially had for Sinister. And we alllllll know how that turned out.

Mama is the story of a couple who has to raise the guy's nieces who were abandoned in the woods but because of the foreboding snow, it's clear the girls are haunted by something. The first 2 minutes are nice and creepy and features Jessica Chastain (classy) and Tony Shaloub (awesome) in some fun horror parts. Then we get a lot of CGI. Like, a lot. Like, too much. I love a good creepy demon/ghost film but not when the film can't trust itself to deliver on the scares and becomes an rampage of a CG monster that looks completely out of place with the rest of the movie.

 I tend to think this comes from studio interference rather than the filmmakers but goodness, gracious if i have to spend the last 20 minutes of this movie with DeVry level monsters jumping out at me, I'm writing a letter.

Lest we forget:


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Watching the Detectives - Ghostwatch (1992)

Want to whip the British people into a panic? Get a respected name possessed on "live" TV and have a real-life BBC reporter ghost-murdered on the same broadcast. And keep saying it's real. Real, real, real.  And this is exactly what happened back in 1992. Of course it helps that it aired on the BBC one of the most trusted names in news and features their actual reporters delivering darn good performances.Despite airing on Halloween evening, during the time when the BBC usually aired a drama program, a large percentage of the British population that watched this supposedly live event believed it to be real, causing a mass panic on the same level as when Orson Wells' War of the Worlds radio play aired.

The conceit is a simple one, beloved TV personality Michael Parkinson is sitting in studio with a paranormal expert Dr Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevans) while a small camera crew (including reporter Sarah Greene) enter a house that is purportedly haunted. The show cuts between the studio which is based around Parkinson's discussion about Dr. Pascoe about paranormal phenomenon and a hotline set up at the BBC to receive phone calls from the public. Meanwhile at the house, Sarah along with a camera and sound guy hang out with the two daughters of this family whom the supposed ghost seems to be focusing on.

The first half, like most found footage movies, is a looooooong slow burn. The camera crew wait around investigating every bump and thump but slowly (very slowly) this begins to change. The call-in line is inundated with callers experiencing paranormal occurrences of their own. Flashes of bizarre, unexplainable images. And the true nature of the house and neighborhood is revealed as we learn about the figure known as "Pipes". It is a calmer, stiff-upper lip version of Paranormal Activity. It's a much quieter 90 minutes, with less in fighting and bickering.

The performances are stellar all-around, and the real life BBC reporters are utterly convincing. The fact that every occurrence can be almost explained away helps the conceit along all the more. The only problems lie in the ending when everything escalates beyond the point of believability. Though very creepy, the ending shits the proverbial bed a bit for me.

Like many found footage horror pieces, it starts off with a great slow burn but then feels the need to pay-off in some over the top way (or in a "no way" a la The Devil Inside). ThoughI don't know what I would have done differently. Ghostwatch still scared the bejesus out of me. (this may have been since at the time my apartment was having heating issues and immediately after the Ghostwatch ended, the pipes started making horrible noises) I simply wish the filmmakers had stuck to their guns a bit more and left on a note of uncertainty, rather than one of blowing things up.

If anyone's looking to get me a present, I'll happily take the framed picture of the bedsheet ghost

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sinister - I'm Going To Write the Best Blog Post Anyone's Ever Written

I really wanted to see Sinister. I also really wanted to like Sinister. I wanted to like and see it so much I saw it by myself a month after it came out. I even treated myself to nachos and the sodium rich cheese-like substance that comes with them to further my enjoyment of this would-be wondrous film. I'd heard mixed things but was undeterred. It would be the Fall version of the Woman in Black, not the best horror movie ever made but it would be a freaky, fun, thrill-ride or whatever other sayings Peter Travers-types use. But, um, no. So no. Big no.

This is going to be pretty spoiler-filled since it did come out a month ago. So if you don't want spoilers please enjoy some of the other fine posts on this site. 

The basic plot is real-life crime author Ethan Hawke who is a douche moves his douche family to a house where a family was brutally executed except for a daughter that is missing. (it is undetermined whether the murdered family were douches as well) Ethan Hawke's wife claims she doesn't want to know what happened at their new house, then gets angry when she finds out. She also says that she's tired of moving and if the book he's working on doesn't go well, she'll take the kids and leave him; then she says she'll never leave him. He has a jagweed son who has night terrors but other than that is only in 3-4 scenes and is an asshole in them. He also has a daughter that is fantastically talented at painting, except it's painfully obvious that an artist was hired to paint her murals and the director stuck a dry paint brush in her hand and told her to go over what was already there. So, welcome to Dysfunctional Family USA.

Still looking for the plot.
While putting boxes in the attic Ethan Hawke finds a box of Super 8 films marked "Home Movies" which shows not only the family that used to live there being executed but several others being murdered in different ways. Determined to solve this mystery on his own (and re-claim his author glory which is a thing apparently) he doesn't hand them over to the cops but drinks heavily and watches them over and over in an effort to crack the case.  He enlists the help of a police officer who he calls Deputy So and So which gets funnier every time they revisit the joke, no ... wait, it does the opposite. 

In one of the most painfully obvious mysteries ever committed to screen, Ethan Hawke discovers that each of the families lived in the house that the previous family that had been murdered lived in. Vincent D'Onofrio tells Ethan Hawke via iChat (drink every time there an Apple product or app used and you'll go blind from alcohol consumption) about a Pagan deity named Bagul aka the Eater of Children who possess people then takes their children and eats their souls. For a few scenes it's hinted at that Ethan Hawke might just be going crazy. But that's dropped shortly thereafter once director Scott Derrickson decides what this film really needs is a Whack-a-Mole game starring Bagul and some dead kids awkwardly shushing you.

The makeup in this is awful. These dead kids look like my first attempt at doing a smokey-eye.
Ethan Hawke decides it's all very real, burns all the footage and yells at his wife that they're leaving and go back to their old home. Once there, Deputy So and So calls, and tells Ethan Hawke that the pattern in the murders is that the families were killed after they moved so now the Douches fit the pattern and if the killer is still out there, they're in trouble. Ethan Hawke then finds the same Super 8 box in the attic again with new footage that reveals that the missing kids killed their families. If I may... MOTHER-FUCKING-DUH! Rather than, I don't know, doing something, Ethan Hawke gets drugged and wakes up with his hands and feet bound next to his wife and son. His daughter appears says something lame like, "don't worry Daddy, I'll make you famous again" and in the smartest move in the film hacks them all into little bits. She paints with blood on the walls and then Bagul takes her to eat her soul. Or something.... that ending went on forever. And with one last jump scare.... 


So, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy is this so bad? Oh, let me count the ways. 

Firstly, do you see how many times I've typed "family" in the above paragraphs? A lot. Do you know what's not in Sinister a whole lot? Families. Yes, they're talked about but I barely remember what the Douches looked like because the camera was obsessed with Ethan Hawke and his stupid cardigan. It's like The Shining if Danny and Wendy only popped up in a few scenes. I needed to actually care about these characters so when they were in trouble I could be emotionally invested in them. In fact, I was pretty glad that they died horrible deaths.

Secondly, Bagul. I don't actually know that much about Bagul because it's not really explained. Bagul lives in images, but he has a Super 8 reproduction centre in his underworld?  How the hell is he making these Supe 8 films reappear all over the country. I mean, The Ring has a villain with the same means etc but they actually are able to explain a lot of it. Does it make sense? No. Do I care? No! It's creepy and it fun. Bagul just kind of pops up, hangs out and is sort of creepy. Here's a tip for all aspiring screenwriters out there - it's important to ask WHY and HOW protagonists and antagonists want things. Bagul eats children because it gives him power I guess. But what kind of power? Will he get evilerer now? How did people stop him before? It seemed like they got close to asking and answering these kinds of questions in the film but stopped short. Did the police department know about this? (all the clues were in front of them) Could they have been trying to cover it up to stop the murders?

Thirdly, the trailer. It gives away basically the entire plot and ALL the decent scares. BOO-URNS I say!

Fourthly, Ethan Hawke. Outside of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset he is pure douche. I only wish I'd seen more of him getting hacked to bits. It doesn't help that he's saddled with awful dialogue like, "I'm going to write the best book anyone's ever written." WHO SAYS THAT? ARE YOU TOLSTOY? Jeez.

Friday, November 9, 2012

5 Most Terrifying Film Characters

Well, the leaves have settled in the wake of Halloween, Christmas (oh, I mean the Holidays) has thrown up inside the interior of every Starbucks known to man so I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of my most terrifying film characters ever. This isn't unsettling film characters, or ones that creep you out... this is a list of characters who make you afraid to open your eyes in the middle of the night, or make you wonder about what's behind that door. Pure, unadulterated terror. The kind of fear that makes you feel like a little kid again. For better or worse, it's characters like these who keep me coming back to horror movies. They transgress the norm of what films do, these stay with you.

I felt so overwhelmed by horror choice in the month of October that I'm using the next couple months to cleanse and refine my horror palate. (along with watching Black Christmas 20 times) Here are some characters that leaped forth from the recesses of my mind and have terrified me with... um... terror...  time and again.

5. Angel of Death - Hellboy 2 (2008)

While Hellboy 2 is no horror film, Doug Jones' performance as the Angel of Death genuinely terrified me. It was a mix of the distorted voice, the fluid movements and the underlying malice of its power.


Holy shitpoops you guys. I barely remember what the Skesis are or what they want but they chill me to the bone. When I was little I used to be so scared a group of them would attack me when I slept and rip off my skin. Actually, scratch that last bit. I'm still scared they'll do that.

3.Woman in Black - The Woman in Black (2012) /Tooth Fairy - Darkness Falls (2003)

These two are pretty much on par for me. Scary woman, obstructed face, ghostly powers that kill... What I find so creepy about both these characters is their inherent evil and anger and that death only made it stronger. Evey time I get up to get a glass of water in the middle of the night I swear I see one of them in the shadows.

2. Jack - American Werewolf in London (1981)

Yes, yes... horror comedy... I get it. I blame seeing this when I was around 9 or 10. Then I also blame Rick Baker's effects.But mainly my prolonged fear of it stems from when David adjusts the mirror in the bathroom to reveal a mutilated ghost-Jack behind. I think of that scene nearly every time I bend my head down to wash my face and bring it back up to look in the mirror.

1. Zelda - Pet Sematary (1989)

I'm just going to leave this right here... "I'm going to twist your back just like mine, so you'll never get out of bed again! Never get out of bed again! NEVER GET OUT BED AGAIN! NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!" ... Yup...

Sweet dreams everyone.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Devil's Cake: Rosemary's Baby and Food

Rosemary's Baby is a fascinating exploration of paranoia, alienation and identity. There is also a hell of a lot of eating in the film. And if you include the sense of smell into the mix, then you've got nearly 50% of the film taken up by characters eating and smelling or talking about eating and smelling. The food becomes so intertwined with plot that they are bound together, possibly through Christian mythology.

The first time we encounter food within the film is when the happy young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse have dinner with their soon to be former landlord Hutch. Food comes into play again when the Woodhouses befriend Roman and Minnie Castevets. The Castevets have them over for dinner that consists of tough meat and revolting cake (according to Rosemary anyway, Guy seems to eat it up - literally and figuratively). Then, of course, there is the chocolate mousse that Rosemary swears has a chalky taste to it which eventually knocks her out allowing the Satanic cult that lives next door to raise the Devil and allow him to rape her. Rosemary then suffers from her pregnancy feeling only pain and drinks only coffee. In a moment of confrontation between Rosemary and Guy when she demands real medical attention for her pain, the pain miraculously dissipates. We then see her eat an extemely raw piece of meat which turns her mouth red as the blood and juice drips out. Minnie still plies her with cake and drinks.When Rosemary eventually makes her daring escape only to be caught by Guy and her Satanic doctor and returned to their apartment where she gives birth. She is told the baby died but that she and Guy can try again once they move to LA. She is fed plain broth and toast as she recovers. But lo, she hears a baby crying and... well, I think (or I hope) we all know what happens from there.

The relationship between gender and food is a complicated one. Women are generally associated with being nurturers and mothers often meaning making and consuming family meals. When Rosemary's Baby was released in 1968, the feminism movement was coming to a head. Gender roles were changing within the social structure. Rosemary is an interesting example of an emerging feminist. She is beginning to question Guy and her marriage but ultimately values her role as a wife and homemaker (the montage of her fixing up the apartment is particularly apt at showing this). There is an interesting dichotomy between Rosemary and Minnie with Minnie taking over many of the cooking duties (making dinner, preparing snacks) so when Rosemary decides to cook, she must assert herself to do so.

One of the big debates that was emerging just prior to this period was the notion that nurturing and reproduction were "forces of human labor" (Source) which expanded the traditional Western notion of the value of production and labor. The production of food is also heavily linked to family dynamics. Minnie is already inserting herself into the fold of the Woodhouse's family by infantalizing Rosemary and rendering herself a faux-mother figure which ultimately seeks to subvert their family.

In analysis of food on film, food (the production of it anyway) is generally associated with a divine grace (Source) so Rosemary's Baby offers the perversion of that. (similarly to the inverted cross representing the Devil) When the Woodhouses initially eat Minnie's food Rosemary is disgusted by the tough steak and revolting cake. Even the chocolate mousse which is initially delicious comes with an unwanted aftertaste. Even the supposed decadence of the food (cake, steak etc)  seems to be in direct opposition in the taking of sacrament in Christianity. Though food is our body's fuel- our sustenance- Rosemary's Baby reveals the temptation provided by the Castevets. While Guy is offered fame and fortune, Rosemary is offered the proverbial apple. Even though she rejects it, it is forced upon her which in my opinion illuminates the true nature of fear within Rosemary's Baby; the notion that even if we reject evil it can still be forced upon us by playing to our weaknesses. Rosemary still values being a mother, and therefore even after bringing the Anitchrist into the world, she cannot reject them. She still has no real agency or choice no matter how hard she fights.

But at least she spits in Guy's face.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Final Girl is Dead, Long Live the Final Girl

This post has been rattling around my brain for a while. It comes from the fact that I love final girls. I love 'em, Jerry! I grew up watching slashers which I'm sure explains a lot for some people.  There were simply no other female protagonists that measure up to them. And I'm talking Final Girls from the 1970s all the way up to Scream's 1996 premiere. They were awesome to me. Shy, quiet and studious but they always rose to the challenge and fought back. That was huge for me. After Scream, the slasher genre changed. It was no longer a film studio's dirty little secret. A slasher could be a legitimate genre hit and appealed to both critics and fans. Well... actually... that was only Scream. With all the I Know What the Faculty Did Last Halloween H20s streaming out of Hollywood there was a backlash, both by fans and filmmakers.

Ginny - Friday the 13th Part 2
 After Scream hit, (despite the omni-presence of Sydney Prescott) there was a rise in the Final Boy (see Elijah Wood in The Faculty, Devon Sawa in Final Destination, Josh Harnett - kind of - in Halloween H20, Fran Kranz in Cabin in the Woods) not a HUGE rise, but there were certainly a lot more guys surviving horror movies than ever before. When Scream hit and the majority of these neo-slashers were released when boy bands were still big and girls would see movies with the right boys in them. Well, sure. Why not. The point being that slashers became a vested interest for major studios. The marketing was slicker and more mainstream, meaning that a lot of these films were PG-13 and therefore a hell of a lot less gore-y. These were sanitized horror films. So all the kids that discovered horror through these films got quite a shock when they went back to the slasher classics.

Too pretty to die.
 But these films led a to a backlash against these sanitized versions of what came before.A backlash that took on a lot of qualities from Grindhouse films and brought back the slasher in a nastier way. (much like a sequel in the Alien franchise) I think we see this clearest in Rob Zombie's Halloween re-imagining. From the get-go, Halloween 2007 is much more interested in Michael Myers than it is in Laurie Strode. The first quarter of the film is dedicatred to Myers' home life and his first murderous rampage which is presented in much more graphic detail than John Carpenter's 1978 original. From the outset the audience is meant to, if not sympathize, at least understand Myers' actions. While he's cray-cray, there are tipping point that set him off. The overly sympathetic Deborah Myers (Sherri Moon Zombie) attempts to save her son, only to realize there is nothing human left and commits suicide.

Skipping merrily ahead, Laurie Strode and her friends traipse around for a bit only to be picked off one by one until Laurie fights Michael Myers, subdues him and... roll credits. She of course returns in Halloween 2 as does Myers (and Sherri Moon + horse), they go at it again and Laurie learns that Michael is her brother and it triggers some kind of killer desire within her. It is insinuated in the film that she will take over the killing. The Final Girl is the killer, the killer is more interesting than those who would fight to stop the madness, the madness is embraced. Everyone is corrupt in Zombie's films (including Dr. Loomis) and Michael (eventually Laurie) is set up to be a kind of vigilante, ridding the earth of these despicable people.

In the 1970s and 80s when slasher films peaked, the main emphasis was on otherness. It was the clean, normal kids versus the deranged Other. At the start of the new millennium, horror took a turn to gore, toture-porn with some misogynistic undertones (see Saw, Hostel, Turistas).  We also have films from Europe making a big impact with horror fans in North America. These films had a nasty streak in them which helped prompt American filmmakers and film studios to go ahead with their unrelenting violence. One of the first big horror films of this creed was Alexander Aja's High Tension (2003) which also presents an interesting version of the Final Girl.

In High Tension Marie is both our Final Girl and our killer. Though the killer is depicted as a disgusting man-slob it is Marie (DESPITE the massive, infuriating plot holes). I think in this case, the horror is interpersonal. It is the horror of not truly knowing a person and the capabilities of any one person at any moment. As an audience our gateway into these kinds of movies is through the Final Girl. Now there is a movement within these films that makes the Final Girl untrustworthy and potentially the monster, implicating us the audience into the sadistic killing.

In the first rash of popularity of slashers, the films were a product of gender and political bias. (yes, they were also a scary good time) This evolution (or de-evolution depending on who you talk to) is an implication that there is something wrong within our world. There are no solutions, no Others to defeat. Only darkness.

Friday, October 19, 2012

100,000 Leagues Under the Scares.

My lil' baby Scare Tactic has hit another milestone, 100,000 hits. I know a lot of them are looking for pictures of The Ring or The Blair Witch Project or mongoloid Jason or "Fat Jennifer Aniston" but it is still a benchmark nonetheless. I was wondering aloud on social media what I should write this post about and a wise friend suggested featuring a movie that was made for under $100,000. So I'm going to use this idea (thanks Brendan!) and talk about a whole genre of films that are made for under $100,000 - the found footage genre.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes I have to thank some people. Thank you to my parents who have always encourage my love of horror movies. Thank you to my boyfriend and friends who watch them with me and big, huge massive thank you to everyone who reads and comments on this site. Thank you for giving me a soap box on which to stand. 

Found footage films have existed since 1980 with Cannibal Holocaust but didn't gain enough traction to become their own genre until 1999 when the Blair Witch Project made more money than anyone could imagine and because of it's next to nothing budget, yielded huge profits. And I mean HUGE! Authors have been trying to imbue their works with a sense of realism since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula where both written in diary and letter formats. But presenting a horror film as real is where the money is (sorry estates of Stoker and Shelley), and let's not forget how they are presented. The Blair Witch Project was real, real, real! There was even a TV special to go along with the film called the Curse of the Blair Witch which went more in-depth exploration of the Blair Witch mythos.

Everyone kept telling you it's real. Well, all the marketing and people who believed the marketing did anyway...  A lot of people got wise to the conceit but it's a fun ride to take anyway. (though there was a girl in my MA class who still believed it was real) But lo, it was not real.

The Blair Witch Project is an interesting phenomena because of the pre-release run up of these films. So much emphasis was place on the film being real that people seems to forget that there is a darn fine scary movie at it's core. Many people were angry at the fact they had been duped into believing it was real. But films today still haven't learned the lesson that if you make a solid scary movie - people will come.

The most recent case of this was the turgid mess that was The Devil Inside. What starts with a great premise is quickly turned into a big middle finger to the audience when the film ends abruptly and the audience is given a website to go to if they'd like to learn more. Unless that website tells me how to get my money back then I do not care for such a website, I say good day, sir! It was a film that was seemingly designed to perpetuate the viral marketing strategies that some firm had put in place. Viral marketing had superseded the the film it was meant to promote. Granted that didn't stop The Devil Inside from making a fair amount of coin and debuting at #1 but it also led to awful word of mouth and quickly leaving theatres.

Another approach to the low budget genre is that of getting fan to demand it, which has been used very effectively by the Paranormal Activity series. They played the tactic that Paranormal Activity was too scary and too unlike anything anyone had ever seen to warrant a big studio getting behind it so fans had to demand it. And if you demanded it enough it would play in your city at a super edgy cinema like the .... AMC 24 .... yeah... like that one. More recently V/H/S is going the route of audience demand, even though everyone I know who's seen it has uttered a resounding "meh" at the whole endeavor.

I know a lot of people don't like these films. They simply don't work for them and that's fine. I love them. They usually freak me out and I love the creation of a mythology that they have to do. Unfortunately for those that don't like them, we'll be seeing a lot more of them. Because they cost so little to make they almost always turn a profit. As our culture becomes more voyeuristic and self-promotional, these films will always resonate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Brrrrrraaaiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnssssss - The Black Museum Raises My Horror IQ

I should get some stuff out of the way first. I've already written about the Black Museum here and appeared with the lecturer I'll be talking about here. I say all this to let you know that I came into last night's event "Unearthed: A Cultural History of Zombie" presented by The Black Museum's co-curator Andrea Subissati with... well... a little bit of a bias.

For those of you that don't know, The Black Museum is a brand spankin' new lecture series happening in Toronto at the Projection Booth East. It's a lecture series about horror films and I mean lectures in the board sense of the word. The "talk" or lecture is purely dependent on the speaker, no two lectures will ever be done the same way which is what makes The Black Museum so facinating. Co-curators Subissati and Paul Corupe have put together a diverse and intriguing line up. This "semester" started with Splice and Cube director Vincenzo Natali talking about The Architecture of Fear and last night was Subissati's turn at the microphone with her lecture "Unearthed".

If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Andrea "Lady Hellbat" Subissati, I firmly believe that you're missing out. She's smart as a whip, funny, curious and engaging which makes her a great teacher.Subissati's lecture, on the surface, is not that far removed from your standard film studies analysis. The beauty of last night's lecture was that it was not a film studies lecture. Subissati's research is based in sociology and the combination of that within film studies provides a fantastically interesting, mind-blowing revelations. Subissati's conclusions are simple yet truly interesting about the way we perceive monsters and ourselves. Her film sources primarily stem from George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead which, while not my favourites, are probably the clearest examples of societal satire. Romero's initial trilogy is a perfect crystallization of zombie culture before it became part our mass consumption. Post-28 Days Later zombie films are (in my opinion) the reanimated corpses of Romero's work. That's not to say they're bad, just that Romero's did everything they do first and with out the overly emphasized meta-lense.

Subissati also used the zombie's root in Haitian mythology and proved that zombies do in fact exist, just not in North America. The lecture was an interesting and engaging look at the mythology from one culture that became part of our North American modern cultural mythology. While pretty much everyone in attendance last night needed no convincing as to why horror movies are so damn important to our culture, Subissati explained it anyway which helped ground my understanding of how this zombie boom has lasted for so long and why people who are not necessarily horror fans have been able to gravitate towards the undead.

It was a fantastic (and licensed) evening and if you're in the Toronto area I highly, highly recommend checking out the remaining lectures. The Black Museum is excellent brain food.

Upcoming Lectures:
Terror Frame by Frame October 25th
White Zombie and the Birth of Zombie Cinema November 8th 
Echos from the Sleep Room November 22nd

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Horror Mysteries - Your Mother Was a Hamster! (The Omen 1976)

Okay, maybe not a hamster, but a jackal. (seriously, no one can do a snotty Frenchman better than John Cleese, but I digress...) In Richard Donner's 1976 (I'm trying to will the 2006 one out of existence) classic "Satanic Panic" flick The Omen dealt with many, many things. While it was eclipsed for many by The Exorcist (1972) as a religious horror film, The Omen is an ambitious film in terms of scope and story. In many ways, as my boyfriend pointed out, it is more of an adventure film which encompasses a lot of set up within the Thorn family and then has several characters travel extensively to solve the mystery of whether or not the Thorn's son, Damien, is in fact the Antichrist.

Even though people are dying all around him, dipolmat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) can't quite believe that his son Damien is the Antichrist. When his wife Kathy (Lee Remick) gave birth, Thorn was told his son was stillborn but another child had been born that night and the mother had died. The sketchy Italian priest assures him that it's absolutely fine and they should take the orphaned baby. Things get increasingly weird as Kathy begins to reject Damien and all the things a priest warns Thorn about come true. In a last ditch attempt to know once and for all Thorn goes back to Italy to look for the body of Damien's true mother. When he finally finds her grave and opens the casket, he find the skeleton of a jackal. Which is super creepy, weird and jarring but how the hell is a jackal involved? The Omen is a fantastic example of a film not overly explaining the odd things that happen in the movie. You have to accept that the Antichrist exists in this film otherwise you just won't have any fun. The jackal moment is one of the moments in the film that is creepy, surreal and never quiet explained. Surely, thought I, there must be answers on yon interwebz! But, oddly enough, there aren't.

Well The Omen uses some fake-y religion to keep things moving,but surely there must be some clear and concise mythology that Donner and screenwriter David Seltzer pull from to make all the creepy stuff up, right? RIGHT?! I was able to find some clarification about the scenes leading up to the jackal un-earthing which helps since the trip to Italy happens rather quickly and I was sleepy and there seemed to be a lot of ADR at that point at that point...
Robert and Jennings went to Italy to find the priest who gave him Damien. They learned that the  hospital  and its birth records where Damien were destroyed in a mysterious fire five years before. They found the priest in a monastery hospital. He was in serious condition – severely burned and could only move his left hand. He pointed to where they could find Damien’s mother’s grave. They discovered the cemetery was in the ruins of a shrine dedicated to the devil-god Techulca and graves of Damien's mother and the Thorns' baby. There were jackal’s remains in the mother’s grave and the baby’s skull was crushed. As they left the cemetery, they were attacked by a pack of dogs led by a Rottweiler. (Source)

There seems to be no affirmed source or mythology for a child being born of a jackal.(if there is and I've totally missed it, PLEASE let me know) This may have been all Seltzer's doing and fair enough, it is creepy and very disconcerting. What is for certain is that the Devil is Damien's true father and that the name on the jackal's coffin is Maria Scianna, a Greek name meaning "Mary of Shadow". One theory states that his mother was a jackal because no woman would bore the Antichrist. Another theory has it that the Devil manifested on Earth, had sex with a lady and the lady (after birth I assume) died and turned into a jackal. (Source) On that same page the Egyptian god Anubis is also mentioned but the 3 minutes I spent reading the Wikipedia page didn't turn up anything conclusive. In a round up of what different animals represent through a collective mythology a jackal is a "guide of souls, associated with cemeteries." (Source)

This Horror Mystery doesn't have an answer. I'm truly dumbfounded. I think the Omen broke my brain. I need to lie down now.