Sunday, December 22, 2013

Horror Movie Coolie (Christmas Edition and Brief 2013 Wrap-Up): Lynn Peltzer aka Mom (Francis Lee McCain) in Gremlins (1984)

Mom's do a lot for their respective families especially around the Holidays. There's a lot of hard work that goes into parenting that you only realize the older you get (or have a child yourself). I put on Gremlins (1984) which had been handed down to me by my dear friend Paul "Canuxploitation" Corupe which I hadn't watched since I was a child. I remember being terrified of this movie. The Gremlins creeped me out beyond belief and no amount of "but it's a horror-comedy" could convince me otherwise.


Sidenote: I had some kind of weird flashback while watching this movie. I remember going to, I believe, Universal Studios when I was a child and going in to see some kind of "educational" show which gets overtaken by Gremlins and it, again, scaring the shit out of me. Does anyone know what that show was called? I'd love to be able to tell my therapist.

ANYWAY, in last night's viewing I was struck by how violent Gremlins is which now I appreciated and helps me justify my earlier terror of this film. I also LOVED the Mom (aka Mrs. Peltzer) in this movie. She was really lovely and warm but when the Gremlins show up she does as much damage as Ellen Ripley did on her best day. Observe:


See? Pretty badass and crazy, right? I appreciate when characters adapt to the situation they are presented with rather then run around questioning why or disbelieving.  Mrs. Peltzer is a Horror Movie Coolie in my books because she not only supported her family emotionally, but also with a kitchen knife... and a microwave....

Quick wrap up for 2013, the biggest thing this year was the launch of The Faculty of Horror with my co-host Andrea "Hellbat" Subissati. It's something I've loved doing and have been completely overwhelmed by the response.

I also started my column for Diabolique magazine called The Devil Made Us Watch It. It was a complete surprised to be asked to do it but I'm very excited for the opportunity. If you've read it, drop me a line and let me know what you think. 


My favourite genre films of this year we're The World's End and You're Next, both funny and engaging featuring great performances.


My biggest disappointment of this year was the documentary Camp Crystal Lake Memories. Made by the same guys who did the AMAZING Never Sleep Again documentary and utilizing the same format, CCLM was a clunker in every sense of the word. It's extraordinarily boring with none of the cultural or business insight that made NSA so interesting and watchable. It becomes clear that the Friday the 13th series (which I am a fan of) truly was a cash grab that had little heart or soul behind it from a creators standpoint. But if you want a six hour plus documentary about actors whining about how hard it was to film, then have I got the movie for you. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

A Horror Christmas Song: The Re-Purpose-ing

Do you love Christmas and the Holidays? I do! Part of the fun for me is to insert random horror into any on going festivities. (last year I made Christmas ornaments commemorating all my favourite Final Girls) This year I thought I'd share one of my favourite Christmas songs with you, one that I've used my skills on to make it more appropriate for those who love horror. Enjoy!


Black Christmas (sung to the tune of Wham!'s Last Christmas)

(Happy Christmas)

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
(I'll call you again)
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

One's asthmatic, I'll stab her twice
I'll keep my distance but I'm still in your attic
Tell me baby how did you not know
Billy's here and I'll take off your head.

(Happy Christmas)

I wrapped up that girl
In a dry cleaning bag
Now I know what a fool you've been
Those dry cleaners have been over-charging you

Oh, oh my baby

Crowded rooms, more for the killing
I'm hiding from you, but I know all about you
My God, I thought you'd know
But even John Saxon can't track me

I killed your House Mother
I killed your friends
But you still think 
It's the guy from 2001.

Black Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, I'll call you again
(I'll call you again)
This year to give you more fear
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

A police with a gun
(I'll call you again)
And fellatio on his mind.
Maybe next year, I'll kill him too
(Kill him too)

I thought you knew I'm here to stay
I'll live in your attic
I'll watch you too
Oh baby, baby, what can you do?

Gave you my heart
I'll call you again
I'll call you again

Black Christmas I gave you my heart
I'll call you again
I'll move into your dorm room
(Dorm room)

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Carrie (2013)

 
 
Dear Carrie 2013,

I've never liked you. From the moment you were announced I had my back up. Why remake a near-perfect classic? A colleague who made a set visit for a piece you  while you was shooting in Toronto insisted that it would be totally and completely different - we would all shake before your awesome wrath repenting the name De Palma.


Then I saw you. I honestly tried to remain open. Mayhaps you would win me over yet. But no, so no. I would like to talk about the ways you failed because they were so overt it was like getting the middle finger for 90 minutes. And if we can't learn from our mistakes, then what's the point of making them? Especially in wide release.

From your announcement you said were going to be much closer to the original novel, now I don't know if you've ever read Stephen King's Carrie but it's a pretty bare bones novel. Much of it is left up to the reader's imagination since it is an epistolary novel made out of fake depositions, news paper and academic articles. Lawrence D. Cohen and Brian De Palma worked to create the narrative world and bring it to the screen. Your insistence that you would be closer to the novel was simply false. I believe you meant to say, you would adhere bizarrely close to the 1976 film. Maybe I'm just getting worked up on technicality. Let's move on shall we?

Kimberley Pierce was an intriguing choice for a director. Her lingering shots in Boys Don't Cry helped the audience understand an outsider and the world around him, which is exactly the touch that you need. However, this felt like less of an intimate portrait and more of a directed-by-committee-paint-by-numbers job. Within 15 minutes I could tell you were a poorly paced, hatcheted mess. There was no finess, no style and no soul to you. You were a heaping pill of CW goo.

Your actors are a bunch of American Eagle Outfitter models. Please rectify.

If you were going to be oh, so different why use large parts of Lawrence D. Cohen's screenplay. I agree it's a great one, but why use it? Why not write your own? Don't use the 1976 screenplay (including dated slang) and shoehorn in a couple of additional storylines. By doing this you managed to make Carrie seem like an X-Men: Origins story, rather than a terrifying look at the nature of the excluded.

Now I've never been a fan of CGI so perhaps I'm biased here, but the gratutious use of it made me physically upset. The brilliance of the novel Carrie is that it's so rooted in the real world and you have real-world documents dealing with the supernatural. The over use of CGI, gore and violence did you a huge disservice. Rather than set you apart made you part of the pack.


You are an atrocious mess of a film. Please make your DVD/Blu Ray release mercifully short and get the hell out of my consciousness

.

Kisses,


Alex

Monday, October 14, 2013

Professional Terrors: Actors in Horror Films

Actors are a tricky bunch. At best you'll have no idea they're an actor and are pleasantly charmed to find out that they are. At worst they're soul destroying narcissists. The whole notion of an actor protraying an actor is quite meta in and of itself so while I won't be going into notions of performance theory in this post, know that there are entire areas of studies that some academics have built their careers on. For this post we're going to be focussing on the profession of acting in horror films and what that artifice means to the story.



Guy Woodhouse (Rosemary's Baby, 1968)


Guy may be the ultimate example of a actor within the film. His young wife Rosemary dotes on him setting aside her wants for his needs. As the primary breadwinner she is extremely proud of the small successes he's had and puts up with his bad moods and temper tantrums when he faces professional failure. His ego is his tragic flaw. He's easily seduced by the Castevets when they flatter him and promise him fame and fortune. One of the most fascinating things about Guy is his first line in the film where he joke that he and Rosemary are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. A joke, yes, but it's also a lie. A lot of writers and film scholars are fascinated by a character's first line in a film and Guy's not-very-funny duplicitous remark sets him up as an untrustworthy character.

Upon my many rewatches of this film, what strikes me is that he's not a very good actor. Guy is unable to control the situation or hide his disgust after Rosemary becomes pregnant triggering her paranoia. I guess he needed a lucky break wherever he could get one.

Half the cast of Scream 3 (Scream 3, 2000)


In what was believed to be the third and final installment of the Scream franchise, the Woodsboro gang head to Hollywood where they are making the third film based off Gail Weathers' book Stab. Scream 3 led to a lot of opportunities to make fun of franchises and Hollywood but the most interesting moments for me are when Gail (Courtney Cox) is paired up with the actress playing her in the movie (Parker Posey). While director Wes Craven milks these moments far too much, it allows for Gail to come face to face with herself and not only have a partner in crime but to also recognize that she's a sometimes horrible person.

Heather Langenkamp (Wes Craven's New Nightmare, 1994)


 This is possibly the strangest example in the list. Heather Langenkamp as Heather Langenkamp shows us an actress who has essentially retired form acting to raise her young son. It also shows us an actor from a successful horror franchise who is unable to escape it and as her character Nancy triumphed over Freddy a handful of times she is also the target of the evil spirit of Freddy who's like a genie... or something.

Craven and Langenkamp have both talked publicly about how some of the initial ideas for this film came from Langenkamp's own experience with a stalker. In New Nightmare, Langenkamp is a again stalked but this time by Freddy Krueger who appears both as a malevolent demonic figure as the pop culture cult of Freddy. While I think most of us like having a job to earn money and support yourself, New Nightmare explores the notion of fiction and reality and what happens when you give your image and emotion over to the fictional.

Actors are both hero and villain, victim and confidant. What all art attempts to do is hold a mirror up to society and show it its triumphs and failures. The character of the actor attempts to serve this notion but on a much more personal level.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Professional Terrors: Lawyers In Horror Films

 [Lawyers] can make the worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakably innocent.
                                                                                         Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying"

 
So we're into October and what's the point of having a horror blog if you can't do a series for the month that practically birthed the horror genre? (Answer: not much) So in the spirit of horror's unofficial birthday month I thought it'd be appropriate to take a look at one of the most terrifying facets of growing up - getting a job.

You can take all the high school equivalency tests you want and whether they say homemaker, restaurant owner or janitor of a remote hotel there's some horror behind each one. In this inaugural Professional Terrors post we're going to look at one of the most reviled and sinister jobs in the world, The Lawyer.

Now lawyers can fall into several categories; the evil defender of evil, the do-gooder Erin Brockovich type (pre-informercials) or the boring clerical type who's soul dies under a stack of paperwork.  The notion of legality and responsibility is an interesting discussion that can lead to a lot of philosophical and sociological debate and theorems.  Laws are made to uphold the well-being of a society but what happens when those that enforce the laws are incompasitated by their own desires and will. Is any ruling ever truly lawful and non-beneficial? Let's take a look.

Jonathan Harker (Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992)


Mr. Harker is a young solictor sent to the Carpathian Mountains to sort out the paper work of the decaying Count Dracula. Who could have predicted that this simple business trip would cause havoc on the streets of Victorian London and give rise to one of the most iconic figures in horror? Certainly not Mr. Harker, who remains one of the driest literary/film characters ever. He is simple, methodical and frankly I think Mina would have had a lot more fun with Drac than listening to Jonathan ramble on about estate law for the rest of her years.

Arthur Kipps (The Woman in Black, 2012)

 
Kipps is yet again a solicitor who stirs the malevolent ghost of The Woman in Black by meddling in her house and her affairs. The 2012 film (based on the novel by Susan Hill which also spawned a stage play) is concerned with the notion of who claims responsibility and the encroachment of new technology in a small town. The town which has dealt which tragedy caused by the Woman is deathly afraid of new arrivals who might disrupt their tentative peace. But the townsfolk are not aware of the paper work that death brings about. At the passing of the death of Alice Drablow Kipps must spend time in the house to investigate any paper work that may have been overlooked or forgotten. Of course he fails to realize that upper-class reclusive families liked to shove scary and incriminating letters around the house for nosy solicitors to find. 

Kevin Lomax (The Devil's Advocate, 1997)


Lomax is a hot-shot trial lawyer in Florida who after getting a teacher off of sexual assault charges against his young student is invited by Al Pacino (I'm sure he had a character name but let's face it, it's Al Pacino) to earn more money than anyone should at his fancy Manhattan law firm. Lomax offers a glimpse into the seedier side of the law, defending clients who have done a terrible wrong against society and being able to get them a not-guilty sentence based on technicalities or by simply yelling at a young girl. The Devil's Advocate falls somewhere between an extended Law and Order episode and an old-school Morality Play. Morality Plays were popular in the Medieval era and usually followed an everyman kind of character as he is confronted with various sins and temptations and eventually learns to pick a godly life over a sinful life. Lomax faces every over the top temptation possible and must ultimately reject his uncanny ability of cheat the system. 

What we can see through these characters is lawyer as anti-hero or a hero with a sinister task. While all three of these characters are motivated by money in some regard they must traverse to a realm of evil and by tresspassing into it disturb some kind of evil. While that evil does not necessarily impact them initially, through cause and effect they are blamed to some extent for the results of the evil.

No matter what realm of law the lawyer is in, their actions almost always affect the innocent whether it be children or their friends and family. The lawyers are forced to pay by watching those around them suffer. Their trauma also broadens to society once they become aware of who has trespassed. Through the use of the lawyer character these films examine the responsibility of those who must uphold the law but are dealing with internal conflicts throughout.

What is most interesting to me about lawyers in horror films specifically is that they are tasked to uphold contemporary laws and procedures. Through the course of the film they discover that they are grappling with older forces that have dire consequences that they cannot necessarily explain to those who they report to. It's a fascinating look at our current needs vs the needs of the old world that like to remind us that it is always there just on the peripheries, watching and waiting.



In summation...
The Laywer
Pros: Lots of money if successful
Cons: A lot friends and family die if you are successful
Bottom Line: More room in your fancy condo




Friday, September 20, 2013

Stupid Sexy Belasco - The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Horror movies with this kind of pedigree are rare. They're even rarer when they're not at the same level of say something like Rosemary's Baby or The Shining. The Legend of Hell House certainly has some names behind it with the one and only Richard Matheson adapting his own story for the screen, 4 reputable actors (with maybe some not so reputable dentists) and a stunningly shot film. Thankfully for us, The Legend of Hell House is not so much about austere hauntings and ghost stories, it's about weird sexual depravities, voluminous sleeves and computers made out of cardboard boxes. That's not to say The Legend of Hell House isn't without class, it's beautifully shot, has great performances and despite some odd flights of fancy, it actually stays focused on its plot.


Released ten years after the seminal ghost movie The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House actually looks quite similar on paper. Four investigators go into a haunted abandoned mansion in search of proof of the afterlife for a rich old kook. The team is comprised of a physicist Dr. Barrett, his wife Ann (because sure), a mental medium Florence and a physical medium Benjamin. Barrett believes the phenonmenon can be explained away but as the stay in Hell House goes on, the mediums (Florence in particular) provide more and more evidence to the contrary.

Part of what separates Hell House from other haunted house movies is its shooting style which is actually quite reminisent of Argento's Suspiria. While the house is for some reason styled by the same decorator of that dance school, the film is so lushly shot with the rich colours partically oozing out of the frame and director John Hough makes the most of his cast of four shooting them within the same rooms through different lenses and angles making what could have been nearly a stage play seem down right Gone With the Wind cinematic.


And contrasting the beautiful shots, is the over the top sexuality. As the mediums become more affected by the house, so does Barrett's wife Ann. She becomes overtly sexual towards Benjamin with seemingly no recollection of the encounters especially after he's dealt her a few good slaps. Florence is also the subject of sexual desire of one of the ghosts and we're not talking pottery wheel kind of way, in an aggressive terrifying way. While the sexuality is loosely tied to the overall story (Matheson apparently had to tone it down from his book for the censors) it's inextricably a part of this movie. Sexual degradation goes hand in hand with the satanic goings on of Hell House which made it the haunting capital of the world. While The Haunting danced around the subject of sexuality, The Legend of Hell House attempts to dive right in. Since the film very clearly had to avoid certain things and couldn't go as far as it would have liked it adds to the bizarre campiness of the whole thing which ,personally, I greatly enjoyed.


The Legend of Hell House is an astonishingly beautiful movie that also manages to play to its ridiculousness. While I'm sure this wasn't intentional it makes for a wonderful contrast to all the intensely important (*cough* James Wan *cough*) ghost/haunted house movies currently in theatres.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream: The Three Flavours of the Cornetto Trilogy

"[Edgar Wright and I] make comedies and both love genre cinema but neither Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz are parodies. The World's End isn't a send up in any way, in fact, we've gone out of our way not to populate the film with references to other movies, in order to avoid that label."
                                                                                                          -Simon Pegg (Source)


The world has changed a lot since 2004 and I for one would like to believe this is part of the reason for this is Shaun of the Dead. Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, directed by Wright and starring Pegg and fellow Spaced alum Nick Frost Shaun of the Dead was a fresh take on the zombie genre but one that was also steeped in its history. It's also, for me at least, laugh out loud funny, which seems to be a rareity in the horror-comedy genre. It stacked a solid script with genuinely gifted comedic performers and well-known British actors. It came out just after the initial zombie/infection hit 28 Days Later and alongside Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. Shaun of the Dead outside of being a terrific film was also a cultural anitdote to the realism and seriousness of the new breed of zombie movies.


2007 rolls along and you've got the satire buddy-cop film Hot Fuzz. By taking all the cliches and tropes out of the (80s in particular) violent cop films and setting it in an idyllic English village you had a solid send up which, while not connected to Shaun of the Dead, carried on a similar vibe. Hot Fuzz amped up the action of its predecessor and took more risks through themes within the film. The idyllic village was not so idyllic as murders start to happen so who's to blame? Wright points the finger squarely at us. While we (okay maybe not all of us, but a majority of the population) want the safety and comfort of respectability what are we sacrificing? Well, our individuality.


The World's End may be the most clear in valuing individuality above all else. When a group of old friends reconvene after a lot of convincing to finish a pub crawl they started back in their teens they realize their home town have been invaded by some kind of alien/robot species. Even before they reach the town to complete the pub crawl, it's been made clear that outside of their leader Gary (Simon Pegg) they've all conformed, drank the Kool-Aid and are now leading respectable lives which as the film progresses is revealed to not make any of them particularly happy.  They have to learn to sacrifice a great many things in order to achieve some kind of self-fulfillment and even when that is attained it's still not perfect, better better than what came before.

 
These films condemn conformity and celebrate the individual's realization of themselves. Yes, the hero and their friend (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost always) realize that they need to "step up" in some manner and face their responsibilities but they learn how to do so in their own terms. Each of these films put the characters in peril but this is when the films rely heavily on breaking the tropes of the films they are sending up and utilize their sense of humour and humanity. The characters are able to have a full realization and make a choice that helps set things on a better path at the end of the film.

Of course, part of the brilliance is a semi-return to normal. The impact of the events in the film is still present in some way but it's been merged in with the characters' lives. Just as the characters have adapted, so has society.


The Three Flavours of Cornetto trilogy has already impacted genre films by showing the possibilities of sticking to your guns. Wright, Pegg and Frost (along with their repertory cast) have proven that cinema, thought riddled in tropes, has the potential to rise above them, be entertaining as fuck and have an incredible emotional core. One of the coolest things about these films to me, which may technically be the least coolest thing, is that these films earn and pay off emotionally. There are genuinely moments of loss, redemption and understanding through all them which helps set them apart from all the imitators. Wright and Pegg understand that loss and remorse are parts of life especially in extreme circumstances and allow these moments to happen. They almost always happening in the simiplest way, with little music or fancy filming techniques. Just simple honest truths. 

These are films that not only lovingly send up films that have come before them, but break the mold and make the genre a better place for all of us.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Passion (2012) of the De Palma

Brian De Palma was a force in Hollywood for decades but since the new millenium he's ... well... trailed off a little bit. From Femme Fatale (2002) to The Black Dahlia (2006) De Palma has been giving us glimpses of his genius but never paying it off with a solid story or coaxing any kind of performance out of an actor that wasn't laughable since Mission to Mars (2000). (or Snake Eyes if we're being honest)


But he's back with what should be a classic De Palma movie, Passion. Based on the French film Crime d'Amour (2010), Passion is the story of Catherine (Rachel McAdams) a high powered ad exectutive and Isabelle (Noomi Repace) her creative underlying. While occasionally rivals in the business world the women share an intense if not strained bond. Once Catherine learns that Isabelle has been bonking her boyfriend she sets her sights on Isabelle for a full and complete take down. The plot plays like a traditional Hitchcockian narrative with identity changes, time lapses and murder.

De Palma crams this movie with all of his trademarks (which actually helps further the threadbare plot a fair bit) split screens, long takes, doppelgangers and plenty of voyeristic shots fill up the movie. Rachel McAdams plays Catherine like a grown up Regina George and considering some of the lines she utters which sound like Google Translate on a bad day, she's terrifificly fun to watch. Noomi on the other feels like she just stumbled off of the set for Prometheus and wound up in this movie; she's aggitated, nervous and wild on screen.  While I don't think Rapace was controlled and meek enough to play out a power dynamic such as this (think Diabolique) her choice to play every scene with no subtext is bizarrely pleasureable to watch.

Why won't you stop trying to make "fetch" happen?
While De Palma dresses up these women with kinky sex fetishes and conniving behavior it fails to rise to the top like his other films of this vein Blow Out (1981) and Dressed to Kill (1980) because of the odd lack of emotion emanating from the entire film, it is a joy to watch. Passion is full of strange characterization, bland business intrigue, over designed interior, clunky dialogue and sexy sex. I watched film from my couch with a high fever and maybe it's the Tyelnol Complete talking but this film is a wonderous delight of bad calculation.

It is wonderous because De Palma is so insistent on his vision that he never lets the movie be what it wants to be (which I believe to be a comedy of business manners) but an early 80s De Palma Paint-By-Numbers joint. Characters, scenes and plot are so bizarrely strung together that it resembles a puzzle where someone has taped the pieces together. While De Palma's films were once visually filled to the brim with production design (think Carrie White's house and all the super fun religious paraphernalia) Passion is an oddly bleak and blank canvas. Set in Germany it allows for all sorts of intense interior design motifs which frame monotonous scenes where the only occurrence is one of the characters' thirty seven emotional breakdowns.


With Passion De Palma may have become his own doppelganger. While JJ Abrahms is off impersonating Spielberg, De Palma is impersonating himself, like when a friend's dad tries to tell you a story about a swingers part he went to once to. Passion has some of the ingredients that the passionate and almost reckless filmmaker once depended on, but they have lapsed and what he has created is a slightly classy Lifetime movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Passion is a ridiculously fun and silly watch, but do as the characters do and forget about subtlety, complexity and turn everything to 11.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Trailer Review: Insidious 2: Insidiouser

The follow up someone must have asked for. To be fair, while I didn't like Insidious I like that it helped bring back the adult haunted house movie. Nothing will ever be The Haunting again (unless you like the Jan De Bont remake) but it's nice to have an alternative to all the remakes and gory movies out there. While I like the first two thirds of Insidious the final third devolves the worst Cirque du Soleil show ever.


And we're back with that random but haunted family, even though the end of Insidious was all about the husband being possessed or something, he's fine now? In any event, don't think too hard about the ending and enjoy this trailer:


 See? It's all coming back to haunt them. Isn't it scary? Aren't you terrified? I'm a little terrified, mainly because it's an effective if repetitive trailer. The trailer for Insidious 2 packs in all the most effective parts of of the first film but in a new house! See, new architecture, sppppoooooooooooooooooooky right? And the filmmakers renewed their contract with Cirque du Soleil, so that's nice.

Interestingly Insidious 2 is not trying to do anything new. It's a blatant retread of what came before it. It's also easily confusable with the other ghost film coming out this fall called The Conjuring. Even the tagline "it will take what you love most" is pretty much the plot of the first movie. I have a weary respect for any film that challenges you to see it just to see if anything is different from the first film.

I don't have a problem with Insidious Chapter 2, because I loves me some Rose Bryne and a good haunted house movie so I'm glad we're seeing these kinds of films exist in conjunction with indie films, gory films and remakes. You're bound to get a good movie out of them, if only by accident.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I Fall to Pieces (1982)

I should probably get this out of the way...

Ahem,


One of my new favourite slashers and a glorious clusterfuck of a movie, Pieces (1982) is a Spanish film set in Boston. The film opens with a child putting together a dirty puzzle. (not a puzzle that's grubby, but a naughty puzzle) His mother enters, admonishes him and he hacks her into pieces. (geddit?!) When the police enter to find the gruesome scene they find the boy tucked away in a closet, an apparently survivor of the atrocity.


The film picks up a few decades later with nubile female coeds getting sliced and diced. It's clear that the little boy who killed his mother is behind these new murders but who did the little boy grow up to be? A police officer? A professor? A creepy landscaper? The above suspicion Dean? WHO?!?!


Granted this all may seem simple but there's also a lot tennis played, volunteer undercover cops and a Kung Fu professor. Part of my immediate love for Pieces is that it speaks to the bat-shit craziness of how these slasher movies were cobbled together. Take your basic recipe of slasher ingredients and garnish with a director's random assortment of interests and that would be your movie. Since slashers were the Found Footage Horrors of yesteryear independent companies where churning them out since they were guaranteed to see a return on their (and privates investors) funding. What I love about Pieces in particular is the interpretation of the American life. From the freshly cut lawns to the deeply held Puritan values it's always interesting to get an outsiders perspective on North American society.

As for Pieces as a film it's oddly disjointed but that's what makes it so glorious to watch. Beyond the paint-by-numbers slasher plot there's so much oddball hilarity and over the top gross out scenes that it's nearly impossible not to engage with it. Around every corner there's either a jazzercize class or a killer with something sharp, it's all part of the fun!!


ALSO: I watched this movie since it's set in Boston, where I will be on Saturday June 29th giving the lecture I originally presented at the Black Museum in Toronto. Tickets are on sale here for Ghosts in the Machine the Evolution of Found Footage Horror.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Horror Mysteries: Event Horizon (1997) - Highway to Hell

I love Event Horizon. Rewatching it recently I was shocked that the same guy that has helped the Resident Evil series limp through so many sequels made this brilliantly gruesome film. Taking place in 2047 Event Horizon (a term in space exploration that mean "the point of no return") follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark who goes to investigate the reappearance of the Event Horizon, a spaceship that went missing seven years prior.


The ship reappears because Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) built a super crazy gravity drive that creates black holes which in theory would allow for infinite space travel. But because it was built by a character Sam Neill is playing, it's inherently eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil. So the crew of the Lewis & Clark (which I will stop thinking of as Lois & Clark) led by Lawrence Fishburn with Dr. Weir in tow goes to check out the newly returned ship. Once the crew dock with the Event Horizon, they board the ship to find out what happened to the crew. Almost immediately Justin (Jack Noseworthy) aka Baby Bear is sucked through the gravity drive for mere seconds and comes back in a catatonic state. The crew finds the footage of the former crew enjoying the finer points of sadomasochism and decides to get the fuck out. Parts of the ship were damaged so while the crew works to fix them, the Event Horizon messes with them and finally takes control of Dr. Weir who sabotages them at every point.

Did you shave differently?
This poses an interesting question, when Justin was first sucked in the ship seemed to activate itself, towards the end of the film, the ship requires Dr. Weir to activate it. Now it's implied that the ship can do things on its own (since it's basically a big haunted house in space) BUT those could all be hallucination which would make the ship more a psychosomatic entity rather than a physical one.  

The Easy Button


The other possibility, since Weir's goal is to send the WHOLE ship to the Hell dimension that the Event Horizon can open small portals (that could suck one person in) but the gravity drive needs to be fully activated by someone to send the whole shebang to Hell.

Formal Testing


OR the Event Horizon is testing the new crew that's come on board. The first crew whom we catch glimpses of through the recovered footage is all about the Hell dimension; ripping out eyes, weird sexual acts, they're all over it, Jerry! So, what to do when a new crew arrives? FEATS OF STRENGTH! Or just mess with them for a bit to see if any of them are susceptible to joining the Cruise to Hell. That way the ship bides its time to see who is up for it. Since Weir is the only one, it makes sense (well, for this movie) that he would take on trying to dispatch with the rest of them then hightail it out of our dimension to his new home.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Trailer Review: Gravity (2013) or Where the F@#& is Iron Man?!



Confession time guys, when I was in school it was really cool to say you wanted to be an astronaut. Maybe it was because of the resurgence of Star Trek TNG or for other non-nerdy reasons but I remember a lot of kids saying that they want to be space explorers or some such non-sense. I also remember telling my mom I would never be an astronaut. "Why, honey?" she'd ask. Well, Mom, this:


This was/is pretty much my exact fear.

Gravity is the new film by Alfonso CuarĂ³n, his first film since he directed one of my all time favourite films Children of Men. From my understanding, this film was ready to go for a long time but got held up with casting. With a budget of $80 million and an intense yet strangely specific premise the studio needed star power behind this film, so who do you call? George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. I'm not huge fans of either of them but firstly, I've got nothing against Sandra Bullock, secondly at least she's not playing a mom, thirdly it's strangely refreshing to see a grown ass woman as a scientist. 

This is a great trailer. It's intriguing, intense and horrific in an entirely different way than what we're used to. Most horror trailers are like a montage from the film and inevitably give something away. The Gravity trailer focuses on a specific incident and it becomes more horrifying as it goes on. In our recent Faculty of Horror podcast about fear, I talked about this Psychology Today article which breaks down our basic fears. I think the Gravity trailer is a great realization of the fear of loss of autonomy. Space is the great equalizer in films. Whether it's Alien or Event Horizon we're all susceptible to the elements out there and it also fucks with our notions of God complexes and humanity inevitably. (that's usually the third act twist)

Will Gravity be the great film we're expecting? (as great as the trailer at least) I'm not sure sure. It's an intriguing but small plot which is hard to sustain. I have great faith in Cuaron as a director and writer but I have less faith in Bullock and Clooney being able to give sustained focused performances.

I'm going to hope that this movie kicks ass. It's original, I've been waiting for a new movie from this guy since 2006 and this trailer alone chilled me to my core.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Short Film Review - Legitmate (2013)

While Canada is mired in its own Conservative government, the US has seemed permanently plagued by it's puritan values which are the soap-box for the likes of the whackadoo Tea Party platform to stand on. For outsiders it's confusing, disturbing and scary. I can't imagine what it's like to be immersed in that culture.



Boston based director Izzy Lee's new short Legitimate (soon to be making the rounds at the likes of the Mascara and Popcorn Festival in Montreal as well as the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival in Cambridge) is lyrically dark take on the seemingly prevailing attitudes towards female sexuality and rape in the present climate. The film opens with the unintentionally sensational quote from former Missouri Representative Todd Akin, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that thing down." Beyond Akin's bizarre lack of understanding of the female body can and can't do, it immediately brought to light the notion of "legitimate rape", is there a time that rape is ever consensual? Are women who get pregnant from rape lying about the experience? If anything, that quote revealed that a portion of the population are unable or unwilling to understand the various facets of rape which, to me, is scarier than any monster under my bed.

Legitimate begins with a male politician (Michael Thurber) being seated in a darkened room with a drink. A woman in lingerie and bound with white rope begins to dance for him as he holds on to the rope. As the woman unties herself through the dance, the man becomes sleepy with an indication that his drink was spiked. In the later half of the six minute short, the man awakens horrified at what has happened to him.


Legitimate seems like a deleted scene from a particularly dark episode of Twin Peak with its dream-like atmosphere and surreal quality. The film makes use of its standout score by Montreal composer Shayne Gryn, which is unique yet instantly haunting and boosts the film's cinematic quality. Director Lee sets her sights on giving the male character an experience of a forced violent assault. From the dance to the woman, Legitimate sets up the supposed fantasy of the sexualized submissive woman but with a terrifying outcome. The women that appear in the later half of the film turn the tables on the politician who is seemingly unable or unwilling to see women outside of his own terms.

What is so fascinating about Legitimate is that it is horrifying for both genders, the dream-like quality becomes nightmarish as the male gaze is corrupted and destabilized. The women are driven to extremes and the man punished for his misogyny. It is poignant and horrific, a sign of the time for a political force that is unable to expand their world view. Lee's bold direction begins with the male gaze that we are so accustomed to then bravely forces us to question it by making us uncomfortable with the dynamics between the dancer and the politician. It is aggressive and passive, and chillingly banal for both parties involved until the tables are turned.

Legitimate is a terrifying look at where we are headed because of our dependence on gender roles and perceived safety. It examines the violent places people are pushed in order to be heard or avenged. It is a glimpse of a darker journey down a road that our culture is unknowingly going down.

See the teaser for Legitimate here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Live Blog: Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings

I haven't done alive blog in FOREVAR and I'm not sure why. You guys seemed to like them, I like doing them because they get written while I watch the movie without all that pesky thinking. I think I've held off because live blogging lends itself to a special kind of movie. Something awful enough that I can type nonsense and it still kind of works, like this, this or this.

Then Wrong Turn sequels kept popping up in my Netflix recommendations. I'd heard about them, but never seen one, even though I've been told the first is quite good. But why watch a good movie when I can watch a pre-sequel? (a sequel that is also a prequel) Isn't THAT the real way to start watching a franchise? Let's find out...



7:39pm: According to my Netflix account I've watched 5 minutes of this before... Probably while drunk. Based on the lighting alone in the first scene I'm betting the decision to turn it off was my best move of the night.

7:40pm: We're in a groddy looking mental institution for inbreds or something. Mainly I'm drawn to the saucy looking lady in the polyester.

7:42pm We're meeting the something brothers. The actor mumbled his line and I can't be bothered to rewind.

7:43pm: Apparently these brothers are the most evil. Because they're cannibals. And they can't feel pain due to inbreeding.

7:44pm: Do you call it rewinding when you're on your computer?

7:45pm: Saucy polyster lady wants to work with the brothers but the man-doctor isn't so sure about this. As soon as the doctors are gone one of the other patients uses a bobby pin from Polyester Lady to unlock the cell. And this is where the tax payer's money goes. For shame. 

7:46pm: The brothers grunt at the other inmate to give the bobby pin to them. The other patient agrees because yes.

7:50pm: They're out! And they appear to have very similar hair to all these teeny bopper kids running around today.

7:51pm: They attack and partially eat a guard and let all the other patients out.

7:53pm: And now everyone's running around being dicks.

7:54pm: They've got the man-doctor tied up and now they're going to torture him. We're just over ten minutes into this film and it already feels like they're padding it out.

7:56pm: And NOW the credits come. Because this film is classy.


7:56pm: Oh, wait. Scratch that last thing I said because now it's 2003 and there are some young people doing it. But in the straight-to-video way. The way where the two people are moaning in unison.

7:59pm: But they're holding hands and she's faking her orgasm (you can tell) so you know she cares.

8:00pm: Now there's a whole other lady couple having sex. The chick just keeps saying "Yes. ... Yes. ... Yes."

8:01pm: The two couples are having sex in same room. And Organized Person walks into the room telling them they need to leave to go on the trip. The couples try to get the Organized Person the join them in the sex. The Organized Person makes this face:


8:03pm: The Organized Person tell them they have three minutes to get downstairs. And calls them bunnies.

8:04pm: Someone complains that they aren't going to Aspen this year. This is why I survived university. Because I never hung out with asshats like these.

8:05pm: There are like 37 people on this trip.

8:06pm: Someone worries about a big storm moving in. Everyone makes fun of him. He looks like he's going to cut himself.

8:07pm: SNOWMOBILING MONTAGE!!!

8:08pm: They got lost. How do get lost snowmobiling? There are literal tracks for you to follow.

8:09pm: Everyone complains that they're cold.

8:10pm: Oh now they want to use my track idea! But now it's too snowy.

8:11pm: They find shelter in the hospital from the beginning of the film because of course. Every other line is about how they are freezing.

8:12pm: OMG you guys! This place is wicked cool. LOL! The girls sit around and talk about their boyfriends and laugh at everything.

8:13pm: The guys have the WORST hair in this. Observe:


8:17pm: They're also horrible people as they play doctor on their female friends and ask them offensive questions, but the girls are all like LOL!! Because sure.

8:20pm: One of the 14 couples announces they're off to sex. And so it begins.

8:23pm: Everyone bickers.

8:25pm: DRINKING IN A HOSPITAL MONTAGE!!

8:27pm: DRUNKEN WHEELCHAIR RACING MONTAGE!!

8:28pm: The montages stop when they start watching film reels of the brothers being "treated".  They say things like, "this is freaky", "I feel kind of bad for them."

8:30pm: They all go to bed. One guy gets up because he can't sleep and wants to explore. As you do.

8:31pm: More soft-core lesbian sex.

8:32pm: Guy that can't sleep gets an ice pick through the nose, making for many delightful picking your nose puns.

8:33pm: It's morning. "We're almost out of weed."

8:34pm: Nose pick guy's girlfriend is worried. Everyone else could care less.

8:36pm: They agree to split into groups to find him. Now no one cares that all their stuff is gone.

8:41pm: One of them falls into a hillbilly trap. There is much rejoicing.

8:42pm: They all run out into the snow storm hoping their snow mobiles will start. I'll wait here while you guess what happens.

8:43pm: One girl goes off on her own because "she's the strongest skier." The rest of them go inside to fight and defend themselves.

8:47pm: The hillbillies are running around laughing and taunting them. They sound oddly similar to Muppets.

8:50pm: "Okay, we've got to figure out what to do." is a line that's said in this movie.

8:53pm: The group's big plan is to run at them screaming. This actually works and the group chases the hillbillies into their original cell.

8:55pm: The group decides to roast the hillbillies alive. The quasi-Final Girl is trying to get them not to do it.  She miraculously succeeds and they agree to leave in the morning. The group splits up again to find jumper cables or something. I kind of missed that part because I was making tea.

8:58pm: The guy tasked with watching the hillbillies falls asleep and the hillbillies escape.

9:00pm: REVELATION YOU GUYS!!! I knew I recognized one of the lesbians from somewhere and it's Tanika from Canada's Next Top Model.

9:02pm: The group discovers the hillbillies and their buddy are gone.

9:03pm: The girls decide to kill someone with a bag over their head... I wonder who it is....

9:04pm: The girls figure it out. Aw.

9:07pm: They get snowsuits and make a run for it.

9:09pm: Now the hillbillies are circling them with snowmobiles.

9:10pm: Now they're being chased by the hillbillies on snow mobiles. This movie... I can't even.

9:13pm: The girls hit one of the hillbillies with a stick and agree to get out of there. While snowmobiling out of there the two survivors get decapitated.

9:14pm: Credits.

Moral of the story - no good can come from  snowmobiling. 





Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ghosts in the Machine: The Evolution of Found Footage Horror at The Black Museum


I figure if I can't shamelessly plug myself here, where can I? This Thursday April 18th I'll be giving a lecture as part of The Black Museum's Spring semester. I'll be presenting on the topic of Found Footage Horror and its evolution by analyzing Cannibal Holocaust (1980), The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Ring (2002), REC (2007), Paranormal Activity (2007) and The Last Exorcism (2010). The lecture will be taking place at Big Picture Cinema at Gerrard and Jones in the east end of Toronto. The lecture starts at 8pm.advanced tickets can be bought on the event page for $12 or at the door for $15.

I hope some of you can make it. If all else fails, they also serve beer at the theatre.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

From My Cold Dead Hand - Room 237 (2012)

For any regular readers of this blog, you know I love The Shining. It's my favourite all around horror movie and one of my favourite movies period. So when I caught wind of the documentary Room 237, I was in like sin. Two things I love together at last: over-analyzing things and The Shining. So when Room 237 was released on March 29th on iTunes, I cleared my schedule and rented it like I'd never rented anything before... with my Visa.


And then it started. And then it kept going. And my attention waned. I couldn't look at another food can or poster in the background of a scene and believe that the whole movie centered around it. It's oddly disorienting because the film talks to 4 or 5 different people about their opinions of The Shining but you never see them. Their disembodied voices float over stills and clips. I couldn't really keep track of who was who and what they were getting at. At all. It was like a really shitty version of The Shining. Like the one with Steven Webber.

What director Rodney Ascher seems to forget is the most basic of story telling and argument building: build your argument with concrete facts explaining how they related the object as a whole then bring us to a conclusion. But nope. It was a lot of pointing at things in the background or subtle nuances that go unnoticed for a few viewings (i.e. typewriters changing colors, objects appearing and disappearing within the same scene) and then just pointing them out.

LOOK! That poster about skiing represents a Minotaur (if you squint and aren't wearing your glasses)!!

LOOK! Stanley Kubrick's face is in the clouds in the opening shot!!!

LOOK! Kubrick faked the moon landing because of that dot in the sky in the footage of the Apollo landing!!

LOOK! A figurative erection!


Um... that's really great you guys, but (as Jack Skellington might say) what does it mean?! Build your argument about how The Shining exposes the film landing and build it into the overall meaning of The Shining. Tell me about what impact these traits of masculinity have on the story and how it influences the meaning of the overall movie. Don't just point out things. Four year olds do that, but they are waaaaaay cuter than you.

The one interesting part of Room 237 was when Juli Kerns (I believe) was discussing the layout of The Overlook Hotel and how none of it adds up or makes any sense. I would have loved a more detailed discussion on how the architecture changes as the movie progress and what cause and effect that has on the story.

Room 237 is a pretty colossal failure in terms of both content and execution which is almost impressive when you consider the source material. If you put any of these experts in The Overlook Hotel they'd be stuck there for decades as the most boring ghosts ever: "Look at this thing Danny! And this!... Forever ... and ever... and ever..."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Twist and Shout: Surprise Endings in Horror Films

I really like a good twist ending, which may be surprise some people since I'm kind of a know-it-all. But I love 'em! They can have a huge impact on an audience binding them all together so as not to spoil the secret to anyone who hasn't seen the film. A good surprise ending is preceded by a story that posits the narrative direction in another way. Usually it is a character's perception that is changed, they are illuminated in some way which brings about the surprise or twist ending. Because the audience follows a singular character's journey (which is not uncommon in most narrative films) we are in their head space. We believe what they believe. We have our audience horse-blinders on.

 
"I see dead people"


One of the most common tropes of a twist ending is that a character has been dead all along (like Sixth Sense, The Others or Carnival of Souls) is something I find particularly interesting. Our notion of death in the Western hemisphere is one of finality. Even if we have religious beliefs they are that our souls ascends (or descends in come cases) into another plane of existence. We are no more in this world. The "Dead Protagonist" trope extends the notion of life, after our hearts stop beating we still have a presence. In some ways it is oddly comforting. Upon our first viewing we may find such a reveal frightening because we have for the past 90 or so minutes with someone who is dead. Could we be dead? Why did we pay to see a movie if we're dead? But upon repeat viewings, if the film is well made, we can pick up on clues that illuminate the twist and in turn, we see that life might not simply just end. We are still a part of this world. In The Sixth Sense (1999), it is Malcolm's (Bruce Willis) realization that he is dead that ends the narrative. He accepts his death that we saw early in the film and is able to say goodbye to his wife.

"This house is ours, this house is ours."


In The Others (2001) it is Nicole Kidman and her children who are our protagonists and dead. Confined to a creepy house the titular "others" are the new owners and the thrust of the film is Kidman & Co. scaring them away without realizing it. Released within two years of each other, The Others is often criticized as riffing on The Sixth Sense's final shock. (if you want to play the semantics game An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is even older) But what The Others does differently is it puts the ghosts in control. In the Sixth Sense Malcolm is a narrative tool, but the plot lives and dies with the deceased in The Others. Had the new living owners never entered the house, we would have no narrative, it never would have begun.

"You dream too much about water in this house." 


Another common trope is an inversion of the plan. For me, the touchstone in this is always Cluzot's Diabolique (1955) (or Les Diabolique if you're feelin' fancy). The plot is a simple one; the wife and mistress of a cruel school master plot to murder him... I feel like a dick for even typing that last sentence since the movie does close with this: Don't be devils. Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this movie. Don't tell them what you saw. So will not say any more. Diabolique investigates the explosion of chaos. The boarding school where the film takes place is wound tighter than a monkey in a pinata, it's primed for an uprising and once the two women agree on a plan the controlled tension of the symbolic underclass in the school becomes palpable throughout the whole film. Once the two women agree on a plot the film remains a thriller but one based in emotions that begin to run high and once the emotions are unleashed it is a question of containment. The ending is an emotional one, one born from intense feelings and one that incorporates all the imagery that has come before it. It is not a narrative tragedy, but a moral one. It is unexpected (well, maybe not by today's standards) but once you see it, it seems there is no other way it could have ended.

"Muffy hasn't been in an institution for three years, she's been at Vassar!"

 
Then, of course, there are the surprises which read as a "fuck you" to the audience like April Fool's  Day (1986). I happen to really like April Fool's Day, it's so goofy. A bunch of young people go up to a stately and remote house only to be terrorized by a killer who is the host's identical twin sister who escaped from a mental institution. The Final Girl fights till the end only to discover... it was all a joke. The host doesn't have an identical twin sister but has organized the whole thing as a test run for some kind of horror resort she wants to open. There isn't a whole lot of analysis for this one, except that it plays on our coded expectations of slashers. April Fool's Day openly mocks the conceit that the entire weekend is fictionalized. Every story we see or tell is fictionalized in some way. April Fool's Day comes right out and tells us is it.