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