Posts Tagged ‘Horror

11
Mar
16

Four Oddballs

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Modesty Blaise

There are two of these. The more recent one is actually a pretty decent movie (and definitely worth a look as an honestly feminist spy movie where the action hero draws her power from the connections she’s made, not violent isolation) but the original one is candy colored and BALLS CRAZY. About equal parts Danger: Diabolik and Our Man Flint, it’s inexplicable, campy and fun as heck.

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Ravenous

A black comedy (or comedic horror movie) about cannibals and the Wendigo, written and directed by and starring vegetarians, so there are a lot of queasy shots of meat both animal and human. Featuring Guy Pierce, the guy from the Full Monty and Jeffery Jones (of Howard the Duck fame!). Look for the chase sequence set to the banjo music from Raising Arizona.

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The Revenger’s Tragedy

You just never know with Alex Cox. His influences are all over the map, and sometimes he’s just damn unwatchable. (The dreary, muddy Borges adaption Death and the Compass?) But other times he’s sublimely inartistic—Repo Man, sure, or the even awesomer Repo Chick—or here, where he somehow found funding for an original language version of a Jacobean revenge play set in the grim post apocalyptic world of 2012 Liverpool starring The Doctor and The Master (Christopher Eccleston and Derek Jacobi, if you’re a philistine). Oh, and Eddie Izzard is in it as one of the less flamboyant characters, so there you go. Hard to follow in a noisy environment, but then the dialogue is kind of secondary, anyway. Everybody wants everybody else dead, and there’s some incest too, just because.

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Lemora

I don’t even know about this one. Sort of like Catherine Breillat’s Sleeping Beauty, and sort of like Teeth, and sort of like neither. Lila, a fundamentalist pre-teen girl leaves her creepy pedo foster parent (a really broad caricature of an evangelical preacher) and goes in search of her missing father, a violent 20s style gangster. She runs into zombies, slimy bus drivers and an old witch before falling in with Lemora, who might be her mother, or another witch, or herself as a sexually mature woman. Weird, culty, doing that feminist reworking of fairy tales as a sexual coming of age story thing. Especially great for a scene where Lemora pursues Lila as her clitoris embodied as a burning torch.

11
Mar
16

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

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I’m reading Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol Clover, a seminal (in every sense of the word) analysis of the genre published in the early 90s that looks at the way gender and fear of gender plays out in the horror movies of the 70s and 80s. It’s great, and manages (so far, anyway), the delicate task of acknowledging both the obvious subtext playing out in the movies AND the explicit text that is often disregarded or explained away as merely a thin cover for the subtext. She talks about, for example, the way slasher movies use the female Last Girl to stand in for an adolescent male audience but also how that decision to make the protagonist female is meaningful on a literal level. She also talks about medieval notions of slippery gender, which is catnip to me.

Anyway. Last night we watched A Fantastic Fear of Everything, a 2012 flick starring Simon Pegg, and it’s an interesting parallel to what Clover discusses. The second chapter of MW&C talks about possession movies, and how they are generically split into two parts: the female possessed who is narratively underdeveloped and the male in crisis who is forced to confront his own deficient or overdeveloped masculinity due to the possession. Clover says that the female possession, which is usually manifested as a hysterical femininity or a cross-gender machoness, is necessary to allow the man to embrace behaviors that would otherwise be coded as feminine — she is thrust beyond the pale to open the space up for him, emotionally speaking. Typically, in her analysis, the man starts the film off as emotionally closed, and it is the job of the horror to force him open — sometimes cathartically (as in Witchboard), and sometimes destructively (as in The Exorcist).

A Fantastic Fear of Everything, though, collapses the two into one character, Jack, played by Simon Pegg, who starts the movie off in the normally feminine space of the possessed (in this case by a crippling paranoia and agoraphobia triggered by an overdose of Victorian murder research) and as the emotionally shuttered man in crisis: Jack was a successful children’s author, but he resents that part of his career, which he blames for ruining his marriage, and wants to write a more properly masculine series of television shows about Victorian bloodshed called Decades of Death.

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Jack and Sangeet

The movie plays with his gender throughout: he spends the first major section of the movie in a short robe that reads like a dress from a distance, his hair long and ragged, twitching and shrieking at every little noise. The image at the top is a good example — his knees are even kept decorously together, as a proper lady should keep them! At the end of the movie, after having been harrowed first by a series of domestic catastrophes, then by a traumatic visit to a laundromat, then finally by an actual serial killer with abandonment issues similar to his own, he resolves the major conflicts plaguing him, recognizes how traumatized he was by the loss of his mother, and embraces the unmasculine role of children’s author. At this point his voice deepens, his hair is cropped short, and he is rewarded with a relationship with the attractive women he was kidnapped with; he has relinquished his toxic obsession with masculinity and shed his destructive femininity. His psychiatrist friend, in a bit of metacommentary, congratulates him on how his latest book synthesizes Freudian and Jungian themes in one hedgehog. Despite his newfound gender identity, he is still threatened by relapse, though — his literary agent introduces him to a creepy, ambiguously queer American who is interested in producing Decades of Death (he chides Jack for missing an earlier meeting with him, calling him a “naughty boy,” and claws at the air suggestively), and Jack is washed with the old paranoia, nearly fainting, until his new girlfriend rescues him, both from the literal faint AND from the subtextual gender panic. Jack promises the American to “think about it” and runs away into the credit sequence with her, masculinity redeemed.

A-Fantastic-Fear-of-Everything-Enfants

15
Dec
11

Dead Hooker in a Trunk

Back in October, Vicky and I went to GeekGirlCon down in Seattle, a convention “dedicated to promoting awareness of and celebrating the contribution and involvement of women in all aspects of the sciences, science fiction, comics, gaming and related Geek culture.” We had a great time, obviously, and saw a lot of badass female geeks, nerds and dorks discussing everything from atheism to comics, Doctor Who to horror movies. One of the more memorable panels we attended was Beyond the Scream Queen, moderated by Hannah Neurotica and featuring Jenna Pitman, Jessica Dwyer, Shannon Lark and the Soska sisters Jen and Sylvia. While it was undoubtedly Shannon Lark’s short film Lip Stick that stole the show — an incredibly visceral examination of self-destructive sexuality featuring the world’s most uncomfortable sex toy — it’s Jen and Sylvia Soska’s much more crowd-friendly Dead Hooker in a Trunk that we’re looking at today.

Let’s start with the trailer:

The acting is wooden and awkward in the best film student tradition, the plot and characterization veer wildly between non-existent and insane, and there’s gore everywhere, all of which are Dead Hooker’s strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. It’s deeply unsatisfying as a story, because you’re never really given a reason why any of this is happening or why everyone involved seems to think it matters, but I don’t think the movie’s really concerned with any of that. The Soska twins started out intending to be stuntwomen, not filmmakers, and so they make only the slightest of concessions to anything that isn’t going to be balls-out awesome or crazy or crazy awesome. Characters are so sketchily filled in that they don’t have names, only vague cognomens like “Badass” or “Junkie.” Plot is just something that happens on the way to chainsawing an arm off, popping an eyeball out or drop-kicking a cowboy pimp in the chest. While the Soska’s clearly have a love on for Robert Rodriguez–that’s El Mariachi’s Carlos Gallardo as a taxi driving “God”–Dead Hooker is much closer to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead than anything else. Minute for minute, there’s a lot of bloody humor crammed in here: a sequence at the very end of the film has the main characters dumping body after body into the same body of water. As they stand against the setting sun, one of them observes, “I can’t believe there weren’t any repercussions from any of that crazy shit.”

I’m not sure what to make of the gender politics at work here. According to the probably reliable IMDB, actor CJ Wallis was a last minute addition to the cast, as the actress formerly cast in his role dropped out at the last minute. The four principals were originally all women, adrift in a mostly male world. As it is, the villains are all male — ranging from religious serial killers to corrupt cops to the aforementioned Cowboy Pimp — but if that’s part of some larger statement it’s not made explicit. There’s a constant cycle of reciprocal, gendered violence: a hapless trucker rips the Junkie’s arm off accidentally and the Badass takes him down with one brutal fist; a shadowy male figure knocks the Geek’s eye out and they torture him to death; two uniformed policemen try to blackmail the Badass into fucking them, and she knocks them out and handcuffs them together. In a film that took itself slightly more seriously all of this would seem like transparent revenge fantasy; here, everything’s so disconnected and chaotic that none of the violence seems truly systematic. Early on, there’s a scene where the twins’ father accidentally murders their mother and is then killed by the eight-year-old Badass. On paper that sounds as simplistic as Zack Snyder’s similarly, er, archetypal Sucker Punch, only where Snyder milks child abuse as a lazy way to flag his villain as truly villainous, the Soskas seem content to use it to establish that their characters have always been what they are. Badass kills to revenge her family or friends — never protect, mind you, always revenge — while the Geek is detached from everything, literally in another room, incidentally playing with a tarantula.

It’s that willingess to subvert convention without letting that subversion get in the way of the fun that elevates DHIAT. Evil Dead took the idea of the Scream Queen or Last Girl and inverted it: Ash is cowardly, stupid and sexually promiscuous, but survives everything in spite of himself, in defiance of horror movie conventions, but that never becomes the point of the movie the way it does in Wes Craven’s Scream. Dead Hooker in a Trunk plays with tropes in the same way, but it never lets any of that slow it down. Badass just kills and Junkie just lights up and no one ever feels the need to point out that THESE ARE LADIES YOU GUYS, and really who cares? There’s blood to spray and arms to reattach!

21
Jul
09

Constantine & The Prophecy

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I was excited to catch Constantine on TV a few days ago since I remembered it getting decent reviews when it originally came out and, contrary to how it may seem based on the movies I have reviewed on this blog so far, Horror and Cult movies are really my first love. Fair warning, I’ve never read the comic book for this one so I have no idea how much of the film was built around the source material and I realize some allowances must be made when a film is trying to do justice to a pre-existing work. I will say, from the Google imagesearch I did of the Hellblazer comics, the drawn Constantine looks a lot more like a noir-ified version of Kiefer Sutherland’s character from Lost Boys than a Matrixified Keanu Reeves and I’m sure the fans were less than thrilled with the casting here. Like many of the lead characters in the Vertigo pantheon, it seems like Constantine is intended to be more of a dark anti-hero with a troubled past, which doesn’t fit with what we see of his character in the film.

This movie was definitely overstuffed with plot and I feel like it lacked a lot of background exposition which could have made some of the plot progression less confusing. The audience does not have a clear sense of Constantine’s abilities/personality or the rules governing the world of the movie until fairly deep in. While some of the visuals were cool, I also thought the action in the film was too heavily emphasized over the horror aspects. Lastly, it was a touch disappointing to see Rachel Weisz’s character be little more than a pretty, useless tag-along for most of the film, despite supposedly being a tough, city detective. I think if her relationship with Constantine was more balanced out, more akin to an amped-up Scully/Mulder dynamic, it could have brought a lot more charm and interest to the movie. In general I think one of the biggest deficits in some recent action movies, Constantine included, is that they lack the sense of humor which has made other action films like Die Hard, so much more fun to watch. More of a tongue-in-cheek attitude works much better, especially if what you’re expecting the audience to follow and buy into is really over-the-top like in this movie.

In terms of the positives, I will say I was pleasantly surprised to see Tilda Swinton playing Gabriel, who of course steals all the scenes she’s in and I wished there had been more of her throughout the movie. Her level of acting ability and charisma in comparison to Keanu’s weak lead is kind of ridiculous. Even Pruitt Taylor Vince, who is a great character actor and plays a minor side role, has more life to him than Reeves. As an aside, Gavin Rossdale is also in the movie (making his acting debut here as one of the villains) which I found kind of bizarre and random. Anyway, overall the movie was pretty bad and made me have an intense craving to watch cult classic, The Prophecy again, which is a similar concept with a much stronger execution.

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I always think of The Prophecy as being like Christopher Walken’s Silence of the Lambs. Even though he is the villain of the series, he really captivates you every time he’s onscreen with some great lines and a kind of jokey, crackling menace that is wonderful. There is actually a lot of good acting in the film though, with Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Hytner, and Adam Goldberg all doing a good job in their supporting roles and only the two leads coming off a little wooden.

In contrast to Constantine, there are some genuinely tense parts in The Prophecy, in addition to some dynamite action sequences and the script is well-written enough to keep you engaged. The movie offers enough background about the characters and the main conflict for you to basically understand what’s going on, without giving away the plot twists that keep the movie hurtling forward. There are also a lot of nice, unexpected details to the script, such as how Gabriel stalls begrudging, unfortunate souls from crossing over so they can operate as his servants to great comedic effect. And there is interesting playfulness with Christian mythology in the kernel of the story, which raises the idea that angels might be jealous of humans for their souls and for being God’s best loved creation. It’s definitely a cult movie worth picking up at your local video store if you’re in the mood for a horror/action movie with some off-beat touches or just for Christopher Walken being awesome.

09
Oct
08

THEM!

This weekend I saw the movie THEM! for the first time. Many reviewers have commented that this is the best of the 50’s era creature features, which could very well be true. The premise is that nuclear tests in the New Mexico desert have caused tiny regular ass ants to genetically mutant into giant super freaky ants. Terror ensues. For as hokey a concept as that may sound, the film does a great job of creating some genuinely creepy moments. The director, Gordon Douglas, was well aware of one of the cardinal rules of any good horror movie: what you cannot see is often much more frightening than what you can. For the first half hour of the film we see only the haunting after-effects of the creatures: a little girl wandering the desert who refuses to speak, a devastated empty store, a dead body. The only clue to the identity of the culprits is the eerie, cicada-like noise they make.

The other thing that makes this an entertaining movie is the charismatic acting of Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Medford. I wasn’t sure who he was while I was watching it, but turns out he won an Oscar for his role as Kris Kringle himself in Miracle on 34th St. and he worked a ton back in the day as a character actor.  As the scientist advising the military personnel in their attempts to contain THEM!, he projects the same sort of charm and wisdom that makes him so lovable in his more famous role. He adds a lot to the movie, making the outlandish creatures seem more believable and keeping the audience engaged.

Lastly, because I am a nerd I also like how I learned a lot of stuff about ants I didn’t know before from the movie. Apparently, ants breathe through their sides. If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.

–Vicky Vengeance

29
Sep
08

Rosemary’s Baby

Behold! This blog lives! Not only does it live, it has gained another member, the always elucidatory Mr. Gleicherd.  Soon we will be co-blogging a post about the new Coen Brothers movie, Burn After Reading, but for now, I thought I would review Rosemary’s Baby, which I saw for the first time last Sunday.

I’m definitely a fan of Roman Polanski’s directorial work. Despite the bizarre goings-on in his personal life, many of his films definitely open the door for a feminist reading and there is a consistent theme in his work surrounding the deep complications of gender and gender roles. Rosemary’s Baby could be read to have certain feminist interpretations. Interestingly, Polanski’s co-screenwriter Ira Levin also wrote another film considered by some to be an early feminist classic, The Stepford Wives. Ultimately though, I think Rosemary’s Baby does not have the full radical import present in some of Polanski’s other films, such as Repulsion and Knife in the Water. Beware, spoilers follow.

On one hand, there are many potentially feminist moments in the film. One of these few bright spots appears when she strikes up a friendship with another young woman living in the apartment complex early on in the film. Up to this point, the movie still has an optimistic, albeit slightly unsettled tone. The breaking of Rosemary’s tentative friendship with her neighbor when she supposedly “commits suicide” is ultimately the catalyst for the film’s first major shift into darkness, as it presents the only blatantly gory image in the whole movie and leads to the Woodhouse’s introduction to the creepy couple next door. It’s a stretch, but arguable, that losing this friendly female acquaintance was an important turning point toward the darkness Rosemary becomes fully entangled in soon after. Further, when Rosemary inherits the necklace that this woman was wearing, it represents a clear identification between her and this other woman. I believe her friend’s suicide is doing more work than foreshadowing the path Rosemary will ultimately go down in building an interesting early link between her and another woman facing similar perils.

The most notable feminist moment happens when Rosemary finally reaches out to her female friends for help after months of experiencing pain that her well-regarded, vaguely menacing physician repeatedly tells her is no big deal. The women shut her meddling husband out of the room and explain to her that she needs to listen to what her body is telling her.  As second-wave feminist catchphrases go, “listen to your body” has to be in the top ten. It is after this moment in the film when Rosemary finally gains the courage to directly go against her husband’s wishes, something that does not happen again in the movie until it is already too late. It is this fight with her husband which makes his participation in what has caused her suffering the most clear and signifies another important turning point in the film. I believe it is at this point that the audience fully believes what is happening to Rosemary is abnormal, after the slow building up of doubt before this point. Also, it is an interesting scene in the sense that her husband’s interests are clearly aligned with the male authority symbolic in the doctor’s position rather than with his wife. The fact that the audience is led to side with Rosemary in this exchange gives that feminist idea “listen to your body” a lot of subconscious weight in the minds of the viewers. Also, it is notable that at the very end, her final resort is to call one of her female friends, albeit far too late. It is crucial that she reaches out at this moment and is unable to speak with her female friend during this climactic scene, because it especially emphasizes the sense that if Rosemary had trusted in her female friends over the masculine authority symbolized by her husband and her doctor she may have been able to escape her situation.

On the other hand, this feminist reading is complicated by the fact that one of the major villains in the film is female: Rosemary’s neighbor Minnie, played by Ruth Gordon of Harold and Maude. A momentary digression from the feminist analysis: although Harold and Maude was released a few years after Rosemary’s Baby, I have to say she plays the character with the same eccentric, buzzy energy which is ultimately what’s so lovable about Maude. It is very odd to see her play a villain and it is the kind of casting choice that really effects the whole tenor of the film in a really unexpected way. Anyhow, Minnie is definitely one of the most essential instruments of evil in the film. She mixes the drugged chocolate “mouse” which allows Rosemary to fall prey in the first place and then she goes on to mix Rosemary’s poisonous vitamin drink every morning. Further, she also actively participates in the constant monitoring of Rosemary’s daily activities and precludes Rosemary’s efforts to escape. On the other hand, when we add in the idea that Rosemary’s plight is meant to mirror not just a woman’s entrapment within an evil, patriarchy-driven scheme, but as a young woman facing these perils, Minnie’s role in the film becomes clearer. As young women emerged into second wave feminist consciousness in America some of the loudest and most active opposition came in the form of women of the older generation who felt deeply wedded to the patriarchal culture and ideas they were raised in. Minnie’s role in Rosemary’s life is as a mothering figure, which syncs up nicely with this reading of Rosemary as a young woman resisting the role her mother played in the household, subordinated to and an instrument of a larger patriarchal regime.

On the other hand, the primary impediment to me being able to read it as a truly feminist film comes through precisely the element that makes the psychological drama so compelling. The movie really gets the lion’s share of tension from the juxtaposition of the innocent, almost child-like quality of Mia Farrow against the darker forces that menacingly surround her in the form of her too-friendly neighbors, her ambitious husband, her stodgy physician, and even the ancient apartment building. Mia Farrow’s waifish cheerfulness in the beginning and her extreme vulnerability and naivity throughout the film really emphasizes how, despite the fact that she is about to have child, she herself has the childlike qualities that are classic to the historic, sexist modeling of femininity. Her childishness is emphasized by the parental quality of the role the Castavet’s play in her life, her relationship with the male authority represented by Dr. Saperstein, and the often condescending way her own husband interacts with her. Rosemary rarely transcends the role of the victim and it is clear that the movie plays up her childlike qualities in order to gain maximum sympathy from the audience. Relying on this childishness and victimhood to establish the essential tension in the film ultimately means relying on stereotypes of passive, innocent femininity that do more to re-establish sexist stereotypes than challenge them. While much of the film can be read through a feminist lens, her childishness seems problematic to me. I believe the fact that Rosemary never quite transcends the role of victim makes Rosemary’s Baby have a much less compelling read than a film like Repulsion where those boundaries are much more readily crossed.

With that said, it’s definitely a horror movie worth watching, as you’d expect from Polanski. And for more on the feminist implications of the movie, I also recommend the following:

Rosemary’s Baby: A Fountain of Feminism

Spinster Aunt

Rosemary’s Baby, Gothic Pregnancy, and Fetal Subjects

– Posted by VickyVengeance