Saturday, April 28, 2012

Horror Mystery: The Devil Made Me Do It - The Last Exorcism (2010)

I thought this would be an interesting Horror Mystery as the inevitable sequel to The Last Exorcism has been announced. Oddly enough, the original's star Ashley Bell will somehow be reprising her role and the sequel will take place three months after the events of the original. Also worth noting, almost all the original creative is missing (most notably producer and Nazi killer Eli Roth) in favour of having the film fully financed by European company Studio Canal. (Source) Well, colour me interested, Batman. The first was a really interesting, well-written, well-acted film... until the last 5 minutes. This is actually one of the few instances where the supernatural aspects killed my love for the movie.

The Last Exorcism follows the handsome, charismatic evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) who regularly performs exorcisms. He knowingly performs fake exorcism that involve tricks to help families who believe they need one. Now, however, he sees the error of his ways as more often than not these people need professional psychiatric help. He sources a documentary crew to capture the behind the scenes fakery and expose the practice to the world.

The "last" exorcism refers to the exorcism he attempts to perform on Nell Sweetzer, a young girl cut off from the world raised in a community where nothing is as it seems. The shooting of the exorcism scenes is intentionally misleading with arguments for and against the supernatural. The film manages to walk a fine line that keeps you guess. Until the end. When the Cloverfield monster shows up. Obvs.

Part way through the film it is revealed that Nell is pregnant. Cotton and the crew assume it is her boyfriend. When they confront the young man, he reveals he and Nell have never had sex because he is gay. They then assume the father of Nell's baby is, well, her father Louis. Louis had a falling out with the church a number of years back and after the death of Nell's mother has become more and more reclusive. Naturally, he seems like the most likely candidate to have fathered this baby. When Cotton and the crew return to confront him they find the Sweetzer home covered in Satanic symbols. As they run through the woods where they hear chanting they find Nell tied down, giving birth to something with spikes as the aforementioned Cloverfield monster makes an appearance out of the fire. Cotton goes towards the chaos holding a crucifix, attempting to fight the monster while the members of the crew are killed off by the mob. The tape ends.

The 80 minutes of build up where the audience along with Cotton were forced to question our notions of science, faith and magic were erased. So what the fuck was the point of that ending?

Fear Not True Believer: One theory is that had the documentary crew believed that Satan was real and had a hand in this, they would have been spared. Because they questioned the Devil, they ultimately questioned God and suffered the consequences. Cotton and the crew believe they are better than these backwood hicks and their pride is their ultimate downfall.

God Is Still Dead: It actually nothing to do with the Devil or God, it was a cult which takes it from supernatural to science fiction. Think Cthulhu rather than Tim Curry in Legend.

"We also left open what's happening with Nell. People found the ending too abrupt, but you can't tie the story up neatly if your photographer is killed. If you and I walked into a devil worshiper mass, we wouldn't know what was going on. We wouldn't understand where to point the camera, and who the big boss is. We would never understand it. That to me is the meaning of the ending." Daniel Stamm, Director (Source)

While I love the proposed explanation that pride was their downfall, I hated the way it was shown. It was cheap and fake. It was like a CGI bukkake which looks as odd as it sounds.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Curse You!

Watching horror movies when I was younger was, by society's standards, a transgression. It was something you watched at a sleepover that was going to scare you and even though your parents told you not to, but you still did it. Horror movies were something you whispered about, stole glances of the VHS covers and told your friends about when you wanted to scare them. So what's scarier than a horror movie where the line between fictional and real begins to blur?

The Poltergeist

I remember hearing about this one in a desolate corner of my elementary school playground. Between the first and the third Poltergeist films 4 cast members died. Like, for real died. The deaths varied from domestic abuse, to cancer to septic shock. The origins of this curse stem from the fact that real human skeletons were used in the water scenes and the actors who passed away all touched them at some point.

It doesn't help when Jo Williams (the mom in the first two films repeatedly told reporters that the paintings on her wall would be tilted at odd angles when she returned home from filming and that the skeleton props used in the first movie were actually possessed by angry spirits. While it may make for great convention fodder it comes off as a tad disrespectful 30 years later.

The Omen

AKA The cursed movie that proves lighting can strike a production more than once. On top of several planes being struck by lightning that were all carrying various members of the creative team, on Friday the 13th of August 1976, special effect consultant John Richardson crashed his car in Holland. His assistant was sliced through by the car's front wheel. Scrambling out of the wreckage, Richardson looked up and saw a road sign: Ommen, 66.6km. I've never seen a road sign that reads 66.6km, wouldn't it be 67? Fucking Holland.

Rosemary's Baby

Regular readers know, I loves me some Rosemary's Baby. I, however, very rarely feel comfortable discussing the ins and out of Polanski's personal life but this is another eerie coincidence. Apparently Charles Manson was also obsessed with the film, after brutally murdering a heavily pregnant Sharon Tate, Manson scrawled "Helter Skelter" on a wall in the room. John Lennon was later murdered outside the famous apartment building The Dakota in New York City, the same building used in Rosemary's Baby.

Twilight Zone: The Movie

John Landis, whom in theory I have no problem with, needed to follow some fucking rules on this one. He had lead actor Vic Morrow and two child actors working outside of actor's union regulations and subsequently managed to kill all three of them, with a fucking helicopter. There was a trial where Landis was charged with manslaughter and child endangerment, which was eventually settled out of court.


Who's to say these incidents are real or not? For every unsettling feeling there is another that indicates that we are using the deaths of real people as our own entertainment. Is it harmless or dehumanizing? Nowadays it seems that these "incidents" are fewer and fewer as the demand for "real" (read: found footage) horror escalates. The PR teams that grew up on these "curses" are now the people selling these films to us.

When real tragedies occur, the surviving stars do their best to keep their comments respectful. But when the creepiness stops just short of ending someone's life, Hollywood's PR machine acts like it's hit the jackpot."When we were putting together the press tour for 'Amityville,' Ryan Reynolds and the other stars kept bringing up everything from the real-life deaths that surrounded the shoot to the fact that Ryan kept waking up in the middle of the night around the same time that his character did," said one of the film's publicists. "It's some creepy stuff, but to those of us behind-the-scenes on horror movies, it helps us to help fans believe that such supernatural things can occur."(Source)

Personally, these stories were like crack when I was little. It made watching these films seem like I was transgressing as much as the productions were. Now, it just seems as sad as it does far fetched. Let's leave the scary on the screen. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dream Child - Nightmare (1981)

Oh to be a Video Nasty, a film so reviled in England that they had the moral majority upchucking their tea. Grouped in with films like The Last House On The Left and Cannibal Holocaust, Nightmare (or Nightmare in a Damaged Brain as it's also known) fits the mold to a "T". The film has seedy sexual encounters, blood, guts and a deranged psycho killer. What more could you ask for?

As any genre fan can tell from that poster, it's a pretty run of the mill slasher, but it still managed to surprise me. There are moments of really visceral gore, social commentary, inventive shots along with the standard so bad it's good performances and dialogue. It's both a testament and heading scratching vote for Italian director Romano Scavolini's work along side an amazing special effects team that may or may not have included Tom Savini.

Nightmare takes the familiar route of deranged killer George Tatum being released from a mental institution in hopes that the doctors have cured him. Of course they haven't and George proceeds on a national tour of slaughters to reach one family in particular. What was particularly interesting in seeing this last night (I got spoiled by seeing this at Rue Morgue's Cinemacabre Night on 35 mm print with a sizable audience) was the complete lack of irony in Nightmare. After a week of happily thinking and talking about The Cabin In The Woods, it was great to get back to a tried and true slasher that had none of the gloss of even a Friday the 13th and to me felt much more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With all this talk of meta this and post modern that, it was hugely enjoyable to see a movie that is blood and guts but genuinely trying to make a point and examine the recesses of human depravity. Some times successfully, sometimes ... not.

There's also a really amazing computer in it that has its own grasp on how percentages work.

I highly recommend Nightmare (more than I thought I would to be honest) and if you missed last night's screening, a special edition of Nightmare is available from Code Red DVD. See it for the lapels, see it for the gore, see it for the dubious parenting choices but most of all, see it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods... A Discussion

There are a bajillion reviews of Cabin in the Woods on ye olde interwebs and since I don't think mine will be all that different, I propose we have a discussion. And by "we" I mean me. But by all means let's make this a discussion and comment below.

But in case you're wondering... I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I thought it was funny, engaging and (dare I say) even scary at times. One last notice before we get into the swing of things, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. This post is intended for those who have seen the film and have some questions, comments etc...

And now, in no particular order...

Is The Cabin in the Woods a game-changer?

I'm talking about "game-changers" in the sense that it will alter the industries perception of the horror genre, possibly opening it up for re-examination or the dreaded CITW knock-offs.  Some examples of "game-changers to me are - Scream (1996) which led to God knows how many ironic detached teen slashers... The Blair Witch Project (1999) which led to a lineage of "found-footage" movies each one more "real" than the last... Saw (2004) which helped the Torture Porn genre find mass market appeal.

While it's too early to tell for sure now,  I would hazard a "no". After only being in theatres it opened decently at #3, now by the same token Scream opened small and word of mouth helped it say afloat for weeks at the box office while it gained momentum in 1996. But a game changer requires a big box office for the industry to see it as a financially viable investment. With CITW word of mouth and good reviews (it's currently at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes) it could well pick up again. However, in the last few years there has been a resurgence of Meta-Horror-Films such as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, Behind the Mask, The Innkeepers... So the "game-change" has already happened. If anything I think it will lead an audience to these already released films.
For my money CITW is the best because of its ambition, scale and breadth of knowledge. I think CITW will find it's footing but because of the internet hype it already seems like a big deal which may or may not be to it's benefit.

Is it a horror movie and is it scary?

For me, yes. The concepts and themes are horrific even if they are dealt with in a detached manner. Horror movies, as I've said before, are deeply personable. One person who I saw it with was not scared by it while I found myself hiding my eyes and bracing for a scare, which to me means it's working on a horror level... For instance when Dana and Marty are in the underground jail for the demons, ghosts etc I was well freaked out when Pseudo-Pinhead just stared at Dana. Eerie as fuck that was. It wasn't nearly as traumatic as The Woman In Black for me, but it worked.

Interestingly, here's a comment from Josh Whedon on the topic of what kind of horror film it is:
Well, you can only go so far with ironic detachment, and then ultimately, you stop being invested in something. What Scream was great at was presenting ironic detachment and then making you actually care about the people that were having it, and juxtaposing it with their situation, all in the service of making a great horror movie. It was fresh. We wanted to make sure we never went so far with our awareness of popular culture and horror movies and the kids’ awareness that things were not as they should be—we never wanted to go so far that you would step outside… Like the end of Blazing Saddles, where they walk out of the Western onto the lot, which to me screams “Copout!” I’m a Blazing Saddles fan, but you never want to go that far. You want the integrity of the world. We live in the world. Unless you’re writing about [Cabin villains] the Buckners, about people who aren’t aware of how things work in popular culture. But you don’t want that to be your benchmark. You don’t want that to be what the dialogue’s really about. (Source)

What place does free will have in this film? What weight is given to it?

It's interesting because as an audience member we're aware the characters are losing their free will but it is in our best interest to have them lose it so as to forward the plot. If the circumstances were not controlled to that extent the proceedings never would have occurred.
It's also an interesting topic when thinking about the end, would Dana have shot Marty? She says she wouldn't post-Werewolf attack. And if we consider the events of the movie, is it Marty's free will or hope of survival that leads the Ancients to rise? 

What place does nudity and sexuality have in it?

"The nudity? We absolutely discussed it. It's crucial to that part of the genre, and we felt we had to honor the genre. You have these conventions for a reason, and the reason is bigger than just, "What do kids like?" Since the beginning of time, we've been throwing virgins in the volcano, so to speak, so we felt it was necessary to examine it" - Co-writer/director Drew Goddard (Source)

Will someone use this for their dissertation?


Friday, April 13, 2012

You're A Naughty One, Saucy Jack.

I have always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper since I was little. I was intrigued by the mystery, circumstance and era and devoured anything I could about it since I was little, I even used it in one of my final papers in my MA. Obviously, I don't find the murder of women particularly salient but the ritualistic aspect and the continued theories, suspects and the Gothic element of it continue to captivate me. This has led me to explore the fictional history of Jack the Ripper as well my favourites being Murder By Decree, Time After Time and From Hell. (a more complete list of the Ripper's film/literary appearances can be found here)

For those of you that need a quick refresher, Jack the Ripper refers to a still unidentified serial killer who killed five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London from 1888 to 1891. The name comes from a series of letters that were sent to Scotland Yard that contained information only someone who was at the site of the murders. The letters were signed "Jack the Ripper" and the return address was "From Hell". Even now, that still gives me the fucking creeps.

From these very slim facts multiple theories have arisen as to the Ripper's identity and motivation, which of course makes him ripe for literary usage. On top of that those three years were an incredibly interesting time period; science was expanding our world, medicine was advancing at a rapid speed, the social status quo was beginning to be challenged and the fall out was soon to come. It was a period, to say the least, that helped shape our modern world. Yet, even in a time of incredible advancement no one could figure out who the murderer was. Did that mean it was a conspiracy or was there a killer out there clever enough to evade detection?

The truth seems to be that the villain in most of this was the aristocracy. Jack the Ripper was most likely an educated man, and is repeatedly depicted wearing a top hat and suit. The Ripper became a symbol for the lower and middle class uneasiness with the level of power that the upper class sought to maintain. The Ripper lore has also fed into the anxiety and fear that surrounds a colonialist attitude towards sexuality. With five prostitutes being attacked and murdered gruesomely, wasn't that just retribution for their wanton ways? Of course not, the Jack the Ripper mystery serves to illuminate the lack of choice provided to women at the time and provides a look at some institutionalized aggression towards women.

Five years ago, I was in London visiting family and I finally had the time to take the Jack the Ripper walking tour. Tourist-y as hell? Yes, but still an interesting social examination. The Ten Bells pub where the 5 women frequented still stands and is still in operation. The sites of their murders have been bulldozed and turned into offices and concourses where people eat their lunches. The once slum now regularly has property that sells for well over a million pounds. The lore of Jack the Ripper becomes even more terrifying if you think that perhaps, the upper classes won out and now we're all trying to play their game.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Horror Mysteries: Alien (1979) - Take Me To Your Leader

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it. - Herman Melville Moby Dick

Literary Horror.
 I do feel a bit like I've undergone some kind of intense relationship with the Alien franchise since beginning this blog. It is my Moby Dick. A film series so intricate and full of mythology that it is consistently ripe for dissection and discussion. I can only hope my Alien Quadrilogy box set doesn't wind up drowning me at the bottom of the ocean... oh... um... Spoiler alert!!

In any case, the Alien series has left me with a question that I come back to every time I wonder again and again, where did these damn Xenomorphs come from? Where better to find an answer than the interwebs an a loathed prequel series. (cough AVP cough). But in the entire Alien universe (from films to novels to comics) how do they spread?

 The first time they appear in Alien there are hundreds of eggs in the Space Jockey (the fictional item that launched a thousand websites) waiting for a host to come along. Realistically the Xenomorphs don't seem like the type to colonize planets, build spaceships, develop opposable thumbs... y'know the usual things metaphorically canabalistic races seem to do....

 Based on the extended universe of the Alien franchise we know about Xenomorph Prime, the Alien home planet. So who the hell would go there? And WHY? I would love it if this was the basis around Prometheus but who knows? Until we get our grubby hands on Prometheus let's do some speculatin'...

1. Aliens are WMDs. One of the most interesting theories in this regard is that Weyland Yutami was intent on using the Xenomorphs for wiping out a population and essentially a weapon to terraform different planets.This is the most likely, but not exactly the most complimentary of human reasoning.

2. Aliens existed only on their own planet until they became part of the Predators initiation. When teen Predators wanted to become adult Predators they'd have to steal an egg from Xenomorph Prime and then take it somewhere else and fight it. Or something. I assume Paul W.S. Anderson has all the answers to this theory locked in a vault somewhere.

3. All this (Alien vs. Predator vs. humans) is being orchestrated by superior brings. Man is the most dangerous game... except for Aliens ... and Predators...