Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pieces of Jennifer's Body (2009)

Is there anything more heartbreaking than a smashed cupcake? Half the icing is gone and the cake portion is disintegrating. It could have been wonderful, perfect, everything you could ever wanted but in the end you're left looking at a gross, smushed piece of baking that you now have to throw out. Jennifer's Body is the horror-comedy equivalent of a smashed cupcake.

Jennifer's Body written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and directed by Karyn Kasuma (Girl Fight) has so much going for it and a really interesting plot that it should be my favourite movie right now. I should be removing all sources of love I have for The Shining from my apartment and replacing them with ironic Jennifer's Body paraphernalia. But lo, this has not come to pass.

Jennifer's Body is a fiercely original voice and and world presented to in a horror movie format. Whether you like it or not, it's hard to deny that. But this is where my problem with Cody comes into play. I love her ideas and her stories, it's in the execution that she loses me. Everything is too quirky, cute and twee. It's as if the window displays from Urban Outfitters have come to life and financed a movie. By creating a world that is so outside our own the audience becomes isolated by the characters that speak solely in an ironic detached manner. The characters never seem to posses a deeper level of understanding to their world so Cody's films become so superficial and uncommunicative that I can barely muster a response to them. Jennifer's Body is by far and away Cody's most intriguing film to date (probably because it's a horror movie) so let's see if we can't unearth some truths.

In the middle of nowhere there is a town called Devil's Kettle, we know this because Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is narrating the events of how she got institutionalized from her cell, Needy gets dragged by her best friend, the titular Jennifer (Megan Fox) to see indie band Low Shoulder at a local dive bar. Jennifer wants to hook up with the lead singer and when the bar burns to the ground and a lot of people are killed (yes, really), Jennifer goes off with the band and Needy goes home. The band, believing Jennifer to be a virgin, sacrifice/kill her in order to achieve fame for their shitty emo band. But Jennifer's not a virgin. ("I'm not even a backdoor virgin") and while the band goes on to achieve fame, Jennifer becomes possessed by a succubus demon which leads her to kill and eat several men in order to maintain her hot-ness and it's up to Needy to stop Jennifer, especially as she starts going after Needy's boyfriend.

The film becomes a really interesting examination of the festishization of a tragedy. After the fire at the bar, the whole town goes into mourning and Low Shoulder's Through the Trees becomes the town's anthem of survival. One of the plot lines in the film becomes about the media's obsession with the town while the people in the town seem to have a full on "tragedy-boner". Low Shoulder's fame stems from not only being on the site of the tragedy (it is implied that the fire starts because of Low Shoulder's Satanism) but also the rumour of them pulling people out of the fire.

Jennifer's Body modus operandi, however, is its feminist reading and its commentary on the sexualization of young women. Jennifer as a human is aware of her sexuality, while young she does seem in control of it if not a bit misguided. Jennifer identifies that her power lies in her sexuality and in being a sexual object. As a demon she acts on this because she must. We see her actively pursuing men, implying sex and then devouring them. Indeed this is a clear signal to men, be careful what you wish for...

The film boasts a great performance by Megan Fox who really pulls off the cocky/vulnerable dichotomy that Jennifer deals with throughout the film.  The rest of the cast is under used. There is an amazing supporting cast but it falls part when they all show up in a handful of scenes with 5 lines between them. Their costumes do more acting than they do. As a director Kasuma pulls off some wonderful shots and scenes but most of the film falls flat and is oddly confusing. Much of the action in the film is under developed and hastily shown. The gore and effects (courtesy of KNB) are wicked and add a lot to the horror elements. But unfortunately the suspense of the film falls apart as we already know who comes out of it alive and any tension is hampered by characters dueling to spit out the most socially relevant comeback.

Unfortunately for Jennifer's Body, it never manages to pull off it's main conceit, that of being a horror film. It's simply not scary. Interesting, yes. Entertaining, kind of. But scary, hells to the no. Jennifer's Body simply tries to hard to be a cult film and while it could have been, just like being sexy, you shouldn't have to try that hard. The film is a sub-par offering against the likes of Heathers, Mean Girls and Carrie. While the filmmakers had the best of intentions and some truly interesting ideas Jennifer's Body left me with figurative blue balls.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Fuck Black Death (2010). Fuck it. Imagine if In The Name Of The Rose got lost and wandered into The Wicker Man. The Nicholas Cage Wicker Man. Then you've got Black Death.

Medieval boy band.
 A young priest wants to get laid in the middle of the bubonic plague. He wants to get laid so badly that he agrees to lead Sean Bean and a rag-tag group of knights through the woods to a small village that has not been touched by the plague. While on the road the priest hopes to meet up with his girlfriend who has taken refuge in the forest. The priest then comes across a horse who's standing next to some blood and assumes his girlfriend is dead. The medieval Scooby-Gang makes its way to the village only to find that a WOMAN is in charge. A WOMAN!!! (who somehow seems to have gotten a hold of Stevie Nick's tour wardrobe) Most of the soldiers are suspicious and charmingly refer to her as a whore. The village seems calm and peaceful. But then the villagers drug the soldiers, lock them up and say they'll release them if they renounce Christianity. They don't. I'll save this from becoming a spoilerfic post and stop there. Needless to say there are some twists and turns but it's all for naught.

For a film steeped in Christian, Pagan and Godless lore it never makes up it's stupid mind about what message it's actually sending to its audience. My reading of the film is that it condemns religion as a whole but the characters and the narrative never give us that pay off. The characters are still consumed by the right and wrong of being on their particular side of the religious divide.

The film is suitably full of gloom and doom, there's enough dry ice for a Def Leppard concert but it all comes to naught. No one learns anything. Nothing is changed and the plague succeeds in spreading further. At its worst Black Death propagates the woman as other and woman as evil. Well, unless they're a vessel for flesh and lust. While I'm sure this is not what the filmmakers intended this is certainly how it comes off. If a woman is not sexually available she is a threat, and even if she is sexually available she is derided as a slut and a whore. For a film that insists on putting such emphasis on women as witches etc it never bothers to makes a statement about it. While such remarks and actions can be chalked up to character and period they are never shown to be wrong. Black Death is a nifty example of lazy filmmaking. Given a period rich in history, director Christopher Smith squanders the chance to say or do anything beyond a by the numbers turgid semi-action film.

Neither horrific or action packed, Black Death serves as a bleak and soulless reminder that God is dead.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Sh*t is Bananas.

Ever since catching The Black Cat at a Fright Nights screening a couple months ago I've been catching up with old horror movies. Their odd kitsch factor combined with some truly odd and distributing moments makes them ideal for me, someone who loves bad-good films.

Which brings us The Ape Man, part of a five film Bela Lugosi horror DVD that my boyfriend has had for over 10 years never cracking it open. Last night I convinced him to do so and let me just say, The Ape Man goes down a lot easier with a side of Jameson. The film begins with whisperings of the disappearance of Dr. James Brewster(Lugosi). His sister Agatha, a ghost hunter, comes into town worried about him. His colleague, Dr. Randall meets her and reveals the truth. In an experiment, Dr. Brewster injected himself with the gorilla spinal fluid causing him to take on gorilla characteristics. Obvs. Dr. Brewster believes the way to reverse it is to inject human spinal fluid into his spine and of course the only way to get spinal fluid is to kill a person. And here we begin a descent into madness on par with the time I got drunk and lost my key in my apartment.

Made as Lugosi's career was in free fall, the movie can only be described as laughably odd. From acting choices, to the lighting everything is wonderfully off. The cast of actors definitely seems to be trying. Granted this was made in 1943 so none of the acting progresses and the Stanislavski technique is minimally used. Lugosi's Ape Man is like the Wolf Man's cousin with less hair and a more pronounced hump. Other than that you've got your fast talking dame, sexist reporter and stick up the bum doctor. I must say there's tie for my favourite performance between the mysterious Zippo who's always in the film nudging characters to do things and the dude in the gorilla suit who shares a cell with Lugosi. Both are inexplicably present throughout the goings on and only serve to create more questions than answers. 

Of course, it doesn't help that director William Beaudine was nicknamed "One Shot" because he would infamously only produce a single take of the scene and move on. This lent itself to keeping budgets small as scenes become increasingly like a stage play as the camera tilts minimally during an extended scene. The rambling plot is only aided by the rambling directing.

Even the final line of the film serves to confuse and disorientate the audience making the whole thing a throw away. Much like the Ape Man himself.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake. Please.

I was in Paris once. It was beautiful. It looked just like Before Sunset which was exactly what I was hoping for. I went to the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore where, after purchasing a book, I got a bookmark that reads "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise." This quote is believed to be from the American poet Walt Whitman, cause it certainly ain't from no Frenchman.

Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!
The French are a bruised and battered bunch. The losers of many a war, a bloody revolution fought on their streets, Carla Bruni ... it's enough to make any nation go mad. A particular form of horror films began to emerge in the last decade beginning with High Tension (aka Haute Tension aka Switchblade Romance) dubbed New French Extremity a term coined by James Quandt of Artforum. It was then followed by Frontiere(s), Martyrs, A L'interieur, Irréversible and Ils (later remade as The Strangers). While vastly different in tone all of the films exhibit a strong notion of "body horror". The horror in these films is based around the physical effects of body under duress at its most extreme, torture. The Body Horror tries to prove existence beyond the physical, beyond what we currently perceive. That our cognitive state exists past what we perceive. So films that would easily fit into a double-bill with Maid in Manhattan.

These films are as transgressive as they are difficult to watch. They follow a history of France's aggressively assertive art forms. They may not be accepted by they are undeniable. Keep in mind France's varied and vast history in art and literature. (one of the most influential pieces being Gustav Courbet's L'Origine du Monde) In the 1920s French actor, director and poet Antonin Artaud wrote about his notion of THe Theatre of Cruelty, ""I propose a theatre whose violent physical images pulverise, mesmerise the audience's sensibilities, caught in the drama as if in a vortex of higher forces." Essentially all images (real, visual, written or otherwise) that shock an audience into consciousness. While these films are often thought of as being in "torture porn" genre they actually transcend the torture aspect in hopes of achieving something beyond pain.  And, of course, pain is different than torture.

This movement can be associated with the rise of right-wing politics in France. France is a far cry from the film of Goddard or even Before Sunset. Some believe the FNE as promoting homophobic, conservative ideals which I would argue against (though I can see their point) In the 80s and 90s my only real perception of France were those goofy Stella Artois ads and Amelie. More Moliere than Marquis de Sade. More grand guignol than Before Sunset.

If anything, NFE has more in common with the Grindhouse movement of the States such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, films designed to shock and provoke the bourgeois class. It is meant to shake their notions of family, relationships, education all the things society is taught to seek out. These films (at their best) question the weight put on established norms and what happens when we break the rules.

As Artaud dreamed of an art form that would  "choose themes and subjects corresponding to the agitation and unrest of our times" NFE, it seems, is daring to do that. And our times may be more terrifying than we are willing to believe.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Horror Mysteries: Scream (1996) - The Lonely Gunmen

I love hearsay. It's a dirty, shameful secret of mine but I love kicking back and researching these horror mysteries. Some come from watching the movie a couple times and some come from straight from yon interwebz. I present the THIRD KILLER THEORY IN SCREAM (1996)!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!! ZOMFG!!!!

Um, anyway... In the brief (and I do mean brief) interlude between Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1998) there was some speculation that there would have had to have been a third killer if we believe everything that the characters relate to us. There are a couple theories I've heard... the Dewey (David Arquette) theory but my money's on Tatum (Rose McGowan) as the third killer. Now pull up your computer chairs to the warm, warming glow of your monitor and let me blow your mind.

We all go a little made sometimes. The killing of Casey (Drew Barrymore) at the beginning is problematic. You would need at least two killers to pull that off but a scant few scenes later Stu (Matthew Lillard) says it couldn't have been him because he was with Tatum all night. Stu is accused of Casey's murder because they used to date. A little vengeance with a side of jealousy makes sense, non? Even if Tatum didn't actually kill Casey, the alibi is pretty damming.

If Tatum at the very least aided Billy and Stu in their killings, then her death makes sense. If Billy and Stu are the lone killers it doesn't really make sense as to why they would kill her. You could argue that they were ridding Sydney (Neve Campbell) of her allies but it's a pretty wishy-washy motive, especially for a series of killings that seem to be so heavily motivated by one past transgression. Tatum's death can read as Billy and Stu covering their tracks. Perhaps they don't really trust her. Perhaps they wanted all the glory.Who knows? There are few certainties in the hypothetical .

I will say though that the Dewey theory is interesting and would have been pretty mind-blowing if they'd manage to incorporate that into the second movie. It would have been a very Norman Bates moment to have the mild-mannered local sheriff turn into a criminal master mind who'd been playing them all off each other. Like a pinball machine. But with more knives.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Horror Mystery: Antichrist (2009) - Chaos Reigns

I think there are two types of people in the world; those who love Lars Von Trier and those who don't. I love him (FYI - I'm also one of those people that loves Showgirls) and Antichrist may be his most intriguing film. It's certainly his most ambiguous.

Antichrist follows the story of She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and He (Willem Dafoe) a couple who, after the death of their toddler son, go to their cabin in the woods Eden (natch) where the man experiences increasingly bizarre visions and she exhibits increasingly violent sexual behavior. He finds She's work that she did for her PhD which is about witchcraft and the writing gets more obsessive and insane. She maims He brutally by smashing his testicles and drilling a hole through his leg and bolting a stone through it.

Later She begs forgives and helps him outside since she cannot find the wrench. He asks if She will kill him. She says "not yet. When the Three Beggars arrive, someone must die." The Three Beggars being a Crow, a Deer and a Fox. The film climaxes when it is suggested She could have saved their son but was more concerned with her own sexual pleasure. Then in the film's most talked about scene she severs her clitoris while masturbating. He finds the wrench after freeing the crow. She stabs him with a pair of scissors and He strangles her. He burns She's body in a funeral pyre outside of the cabin. He then leaves the cabin, walking through the forest as the Three Beggars watch. He then sees hundreds of women walking towards him, their faces blurred.

So, what the fuck does all that mean?

God Hates Women. Well ish, in a historical sense anyway. According to the Christian bible, women are responsible for original sin and getting mankind cast out of Eden forever. In the film She cannot cross the bridge into Eden, She must be carried. If we consider the witch hunts of the 16th Century the witches were actually pagans (except for the Blair Witch) with a strong connection to nature and the cycle of the Earth. One theory is that She is afraid of nature because it will restore her to her paganistic ways which would result in her being cast out from society. Once She realizes that nature is not "Satan's Church" she happily emerges herself in water.

When He criticizes her for being happy in Eden it triggers an anxiety that beings the violent series of events. The women approaching him at the end are those who died at the hand of the Church.

The Exorcist. Women are agents of the Devil. Eve was the first tempted and since then Satan has been able to prove his existence through them. In this reading, the Three Beggars would be agents of God warning, protecting and guiding He through the events. This would also speak to the discovery that She had been putting on her son's shoes on the wrong feet, perverting and going against nature which is emblematic of Satanism... so I'm told...

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrr She's just cray-cray. Unable to face herself after letting her child die She suffers a complete psychotic break taking He along for the ride.

There were claims of sexism and misogyny upon Antichrist's release but the title alone suggests the Catholic reading of the film. I don't think Von Trier is sexist, I think history might be.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

You're A Virgin Who Can't Drive - Cherry Falls (2000)

Cherry Falls may be the most criminally underrated slasher film of the last 20 years. After a battle with the MPAA who kept threatening to slap it with an NC-17 rating it found a home on the USA cable channel and straight-to-DVD release. Though it did well overseas, Cherry Falls is still a hidden gem in the horror genre. And dare I say it, the post-post modern horror film since Scream.

In the affluent town of Cherry Falls, someone is off-ing virgins. The town's Sheriff (Michael Biehn) and some of the other adults start getting nervous. The teens of this small town are now faced with the very real dilemma of "use it or lose it". Which is exactly what Jody (Brittany Murphy - R.I.P.) tries to do while solving the mystery as who this Laure Lee Sherman is that everyone keeps whispering about. It's a really simple but refreshing twist on the slasher formula.Because the film manages to keep the formula change simple they save a lot of time but not having to wink at the audience.

The damn shame of the movie is the cuts. There are some scenes left dangling and some that seem to pick up in the middle of the action which hint at something bigger. A couple extra scenes (MPAA be damned). This keeps Cherry Falls from being a pitch-perfect satire of the genre. What the film manages to achieve is the sense of a community with more secrets than it would like. The adults are either crazy or guilt-ridden which works in the film as they are just as big a part of the film as the teens. The film takes on an almost Twin Peak-ian tone with the oddities buried in this small town.

There is a definite sense of fun to this film that cannot be said for a lot of post-Scream slasher. At least, this one doesn't feel like a money grab. The addition of Brittany Murphy is particularly great. She manages to ride the normal with a side of crazy pretty well. She's likeable, relateable and fights like hell when push comes to shove. The film is odd enough to keep you guessing but I would have preferred a higher body count to make the urgency of a pseudo-orgy necessary and more immediate. They also placed too much emphasis on the final reveal which is not nearly as interesting as the overall comment of the film. And, again, the end happens oddly quickly which leads me to believe there are scenes out there that help make sense of the whole thing.

In the end, Cherry Falls is a great way to spend 80 minutes. It's way more imaginative and fun then it really has any right to be and it finally fulfills an unknown life-long dream of mine, to see Corporal Hicks and Tai in the same movie. It's surreal, wonderful and reminds me of what their real faces looked like.