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: