Chainsaw remakeIf you’re going to make a period piece, take the time to do it right. The opening of Marcus Nispel‘s 2003 remake of  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre says it is set in 1973, but one look at the outfits they are wearing and you know that it is not. The characters’ language and conversational topics also set this movie clearly in the present day. (Well, ten years ago now, but you get my meaning.)

By contrast, Ti West‘s 2009 release The House of the Devil is set in the 1980’s, and it shows. West did such a good job of removing anything modern from the film that I actually felt I was watching a movie produced in the 80’s. If you haven’t seen it, and you like 80’s horror, I suggest you do. It gave me my first startling “whoa” moment I have had all semester. I won’t tell you when because I would hate to deprive you of the pleasure.HD Snoop

There are a lot of places in the story where West builds artificial suspense.  I kept expecting something to happen and then it didn’t. HD doorLike Jocelin Donahue’s  character, the audience scares itself with anticipation, especially when West shows us what’s behind the doors that Donahue doesn’t open. West also creates a feeling of anticipation by leaving the camera on even after the character has left the frame.

There  are a few slow spots, but in the end there is plenty of blood and a double surprise ending. One I saw coming, the other I didn’t.

 

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stephen_King_jpg_h380_jpg_568Since the idea of the auteur theory gives a, sort of , creative ownership to the director of a film, we often talk about films as creations of the director, and in the case of horror films, they usually are. However, when the film is an adaptation of a book, especially a novel by the illustrious Stephen King, the director becomes more of an interpreter than a creator. So when reviewing Brian De Palma’s Carrie or Kimberly Peirce‘s 2013 remake how much of the movie belongs to the director and how much is really the vision of the original novelist?

Carol Clover talks more of Mr. King’s creation of the girl who is hero, victim, and monster, and the themes that his ideas articulate. Jason Zinoman tells De Palma’s story and controversial decisions he made during filming. By comparing the two adaptations, it becomes obvious that while some things change (director’s call) some things remain the same (original story).

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C2 technologyCarrie was King’s first published novel, and it went stellar so fast that it made him a household name even before De Palma’s masterpiece became a hit. Although I really liked De Palma’s adaptation at the time, and it still holds a great deal of merit, I much prefer Peirce’s rendition of the story. It is clear that technology plays a significant role in the new film both inside and out. The girls use a cell phone to capture the humiliating episode in the shower, but the special effects used in the prom scene disaster sold the scene and really emphasis the power of what Clover calls the “assaultive gaze” (184).

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e293f5b0b0159844f92d9bdc72fc904bHave you ever bit down on a sore tooth on purpose? The pressure intensifies the pain, sometimes to the point of almost numbness. David Edelstein asks, in his article “Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn,” if, perhaps, torture horror audiences have a masochistic side to them. Watching Eli Roth’s 2005 contribution to the torture genre, Hostel, is uncomfortable, to say the least. Too much sex in the first half and too much pain in the second.

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The character that you are most attached to gets mutilated and killed instead of being the hero. His jerk of a friend finds him too late to save him. The girl he does save ends up throwing herself in front of a train. Just when you think it’s all over, there is one more gruesome torture and murder scene, sliding the movie into the rape/revenge genre.

The friend, Paxton, played by Jay Hernandez, becomes one of the members of the Elite Hunting Club, both figuratively and literally. He has to Hostel-Still1kill his own tormentor and one of the guards in order to escape his personal torture chamber. Then he must dress in as one of them in order to pass through the building undetected. He must “play along” when he is confronted and questioned by a new member of the club.

These transformations are necessary in order to escape with his life; however, he chooses to go back and kill the new club member in order to save the girl, and he chooses to follow the The German Surgeon into the men’s room locking the door behind him. He chooses to cut off two of the man’s fingers in retribution for his on lost digits. He chooses to torture him before finally slitting his throat.

Hostel3Edelstein points out that the graphic depiction of sadistic acts torture the audience along with the characters. Also that the constantly shifting POV shots “forces the sinister car of complicity upon the viewer.” In essence, Roth is saying, “Don’t blame me for making this movie; blame yourself for watching it.”

I wonder, like the aching tooth, do we inflict this pain upon ourselves in hopes of numbing ourselves from the reality of violence that makes up the daily news?

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Grave gunMeir Zarchi was not trying to make a fun, friendly, family movie when he wrote, directed, and produced the 1978 graphic depiction of rape and comeuppance that is  I Spit on Your Grave.  The film is disturbing on several levels, but as one critic says, it’s supposed to be. Clover points out that the gritty realistic extreme approach that Zarchi takes, “reduces the genre to its essence” (115). Grave leaderZarchi does not glorify rape, but instead by dragging out the scene, keeping Camille Keaton naked throughout, and increasing the violence with each successive encounter, he creates extreme unease in those watching.

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Grave dressBeyond the content though, Zarchi used some techniques to play around with the psychological comfort of his audience. Like Roman Polanski in Rosemary’s Baby, Zarchi uses color to subconsciously affect the emotions of the audience. When we (and the men at the gas station) first meet  Jennifer she is wearing a red dress, emphasizing the impurity of the “big city woman” as well as signaling danger. Later after she heals from her attack and before she begins her revenge she is dresses in black, a representation of mourning; mourning her own lost innocence, and since she asks forgiveness for the murders that she is about to commit, mourning the men’s’ deaths as well. Grave blackHer outfit is not only black, but unlike every other outfit she wears, it covers her from head to foot, long sleeves, long pants, and even a scarf to cover her head. This covering of the body can also represents mourning, but since she wears the same outfit as she begins stalking her victims it gives her a kind of sneaky ninja feel as well. Grave whiteFinally, when she begins her murderous run on her attackers, she is wearing white, long, flowing, billowing white as if she is a ghost or a dream. After castrating the leader of the pack, she again dons the same white flowing gown as she listens to opera in order to drown out the screams of a man bleeding to death in her upstairs bathroom, and as she cleans up the blood mess left behind. This scene plays up the dramatic contrast between the red blood and the white tub, tile, and gown, representing, perhaps, the fact that these events have forever stained her life.

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JB floatI wasn’t sure what to expect from Jennifer’s Body. I had never heard of it before seeing it on the syllabus, but after watching it I was not surprised to learn that the writer and director are both women, Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama respectively. This movie is a delightful, kick-ass, girl power, horror flick. I loved it!

Unlike Clover’s definition of the occult possession film where the woman’s story is a cover for the man’s crisis (65), this one is all about the girls. Even though the title puts Jennifer up front, it is actually her friend, Needy’s, story. It is the story of empowerment.

JB EddyJennifer and Needy have been BFFs since grade school, “sandbox love never dies,” and there is definitely a girl crush going on, but although Needy does not see it, beautiful, perfect, popular Jennifer keeps Needy around because it makes her feel better by comparison.

JB after the fireWhen her best friend inadvertently becomes possessed with demonic power and begins eating their schoolmates after an inept attempt to sacrifice Jennifer’s body to the devil by a desperate Indy rock band, Nerdy Needy hits the library to find answers. Jennifer is very possessive of her friend even before her transformation and afterwards she specifically targets boys that might come between them. Needy must stand up to her domineering friend in order to save the town, although she is too late to save her boyfriend.

JB mouthThere are several nods towards Carrie in this film, including the bar full of people that gets burned down, and hints of a blood bath at the school formal dance. In talking about Carrie, Zinoman refers to Lovecraft’s idea that the scariest thing is the unknown and points out that to a young man the sexuality of a teenage girl is unsettling (161). When combining Jennifer’s blatant sexuality with her big mouth full of sharp teeth and demonic eyes, she makes a terrifying monster for teenage boys.

JB in asylmNeedy kills the demonic Jennifer and is locked away in a mental institution, proving Brian De Palma’s idea, “Even when you succeed, you fail–and get punished” (Zinoman 167). But it doesn’t end there, Needy, empowered by her heroic actions (and a little demon bite) escapes and, in a great crime scene photo driven ending credits, enacts revenge on the rock band that caused the whole thing.

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House biteHave you ever had a friend bite you in the butt? How about the floating head of a friend? Nobuhiko Ôbayashi put together such a mish mash of crazy styles and psychedelic visual assaults in his 1977 movie House (Hausu), that it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and yet like too many things I’ve seen before smashed together into something, well frankly, really weird.House vortex It reminded me of a combination of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, the television series The Monkeys, Hello, Dolly!, The Sound of Music, and Japanese anime with some Disney fairy princess stuff thrown in for good measure. Chuck Stephens calls it “a maelstrom of cinekinetic visual ingenuity.” That’s a mouthful that basically means it’s a storm of constantly moving images and color.

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House headHouse is supposed to be a horror movie, and yeah there are some elements of horror (blood spewing from the picture of the cat, decapitated talking heads, bodily dismemberment, and such), but it really has too much “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” to be the least bit scary to me. According to Stephens, Obayashi’s eleven-year-old daughter provided a lot of ideas for the movie, and that explains a lot. House group

Stephens says the film is more about “the telling than the tale,” and I can see that because the story itself is kind of hard to follow. I realize that as Cherry explains, horror movies have a lot to say about the culture and time they were made (210), and I don’t know that much about Japanese culture, especially in the 1970’s, but this movie is just (to use the vernacular of the time) “way too far out there man.”  

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Ex 2       In Men, Women, and Chain Saws Carol Clover says that “the occult film is the most ‘female’ of horror genres.” She continues by saying that the story of the female overtaken by the supernatural is a cover for the real story, that of “a man in crisis” (65). In William Friedkin‘s 1973 classic  The Exorcist, the underlying story seems to be about two different men in crisis. Ex 4The beginning of the film spends a considerable amount of time following Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, around an archeological site in Iraq, where he has some sort of experience with a statue that comes back to him during the exorcism. The film then switches to the crisis of faith experienced by Father Karras, played by Jason Miller, and his dealings with his aging mother and her eventual death. Neither of theses crises is really settled or even well defined, so I’m not sure what the “real” story of the movie is supposed to be according to Clover’s definition especially since neither of these men qualify as men according to clover (74).

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Ex 5Clover also talks about the split between “White Science and Black Magic” competing in movies about the occult (66). Since “Black Magic” by Clover’s definition includes rites of the Roman Catholic Church this movie is centered around this conflict with science eventually giving in to and suggesting the use of “magic” though only for it’s psychological effect in creating the power of suggestion. However, Clover points out that this same conflict is what causes Father Karras’ crisis of faith in the first place (87). (Mind you she uses the novel, not the film, to glean most of her understanding.) So, poor Regan and her mother are just collateral damage used to prove the existence of the supernatural to a doubting priest.Ex 7

MSDPEUN EC007Jason Zinoman talks about a unbreakable connection between the pleasures of watching movies and “the forbidden, the taboo, and a hint of the disreputable” (212).  Wes Craven’s 1991 offering  The People Under the Stairs packs as many taboo subjects and as much social commentary as may be possible in a mere 102 minutes. It has been said that the movie is about racial relations, but it is about so much more.

PUS tubIt is about child abuse, kidnapping, murder, fetish ware, cannibalism, peer pressure, socio-economic imbalance, gangs, pedophilia, incest, isolation, slum lords, slavery, mutilation, fundamentalist religion, missing children, ghetto conditions, interracial relationships, illness, poverty, unfair business practices, home invasion, greed of the medical corporations, greed at the expense of others, fear of strangers, power by violence, revenge, adolescent angst, death, war (specifically the first Gulf War), hoarding, the unrealistic idea of perfection, plastic surgery, starvation, animal cruelty, hypocrisy, unequal distribution of wealth, predators, and the monster under the bed (or in the wall).

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The crazy Robertson siblings represent a melding of disreputable and taboo with their more than a little strange relationship and completely wacko behavior. In one scene, Fool’s grandfather explains how “the greedier they got, the crazier they got,” thus relating a love of money to these taboo practices and therefore labeling it as taboo as well.

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Zinoman points out that Craven, as well as John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, was trying to present the audience with “the most unpleasant thing possible” (226).

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SP vanFirst off I must confess I am not a big fan of satire. Most of the time I don’t get it. I am the kind of person who takes things literally. So when I watched Amy Holden Jones‘ 1982 satirical slasher film The Slumber Party Massacre I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. I didn’t realize that the stupidity of the characters and directions was supposed to be that way. In fact, though I laughed at several places, it wasn’t until the scene with the body in the refrigerator that it hit me, “Hey, this is supposed to be funny.”SP frige

 

SP bloodI thought it was strange that the two boys couldn’t hear the hot telephone repair girl in the van, and the girl in the shower was smart enough to try and keep the blood from leaking out from under the door, even though she failed, but when the killer all the sudden looks down for no reason, I couldn’t decide if it was bad directing or bad acting. SP pizzaWhen one of the girls takes the pizza box from under the dead delivery man and begins eating the pizza, I was beginning to get the hint.

SP trunkThere are several other scenes that made me smirk or grin, including the body dump in the trunk of the car, SP angelsthe Charlie’s Angels pose, and the SP three girlsThree Stooges walk down the hall, but I still was not convinced.

 

The many fake-outs seemed forced and overdone. (I realize now they were supposed to be that way.)

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Slumber Party was more of a satirical parody, rather than straight parody or straight satire. Perhaps that is why I was not the only one to misread the intentions of the director.

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I had heard a little about the movie before watching it, and frankly I expected something a little different. Brigid Cherry said that “several final girls” assisted in killing the killer (24). So I expected these girls to be a bit smarter than the average slasher victim. I expected the girl that was tough enough to judo flip her massive boyfriend would have been able to land a well placed kick in the groin as the killer stood in front of her with his legs spread apart. Zinoman mentioned that “an entire genre called ‘rape-revenge’ movies told stories of empowered women fighting back” (196). I kept waiting for these women to stand up and whomp on this guy, but every time someone did  fight back, they would stupidly put down their weapon in the next frame. Even his death seemed more of an accident than a woman taking charge. I’m sure this was part of that satire part that I just don’t get.

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In 1985  Jack Sholder directed the sequel to Wes Craven’s ground breaking horror classic. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge takes a different approach to the world of NM2 killFreddy Kruger. In the first movie there are obvious dream sequences intermixed with what seems to be reality until the two become blurred. NM2 gloveIn Freddy’s Revenge there are few obvious dream sequences. In fact, the movie seems to be more about possession than nightmares, except that being possessed by Freddy Kruger and forced to do his killing for him would certainly be a living nightmare.

Discounting the traumatic endings, in the first movie NM2 kissFreddy is defeated by taking away the energy of fear causing him to fizz out. In the second movie Jesse is freed from Freddy’s possession by love (not sex, but accepting love).

According to Cherry, “horror film narratives are often centered around the places where boundaries break down” (118), and “Anything (bodily wastes, blood, etc.) that crosses the boundaries of the body becomes non-self” (116). This crossing of boundaries is part of the abject placing both movies square in the middle of Abject Central.

NM2 handBoth films play with the audience’s sense of what is real and what isn’t. For the second movie, the first scene that brought this idea to my mind was when Jesse was in science class and the teacher was droning on about how and why the body produces waste. Besides the many times that Freddy’s knife fingers penetrate his victims’ bodies releasing their blood, when the glove melds into him and the knives instead protrude from his very fingers it creates abjection. But the best example is when the “non-self” (Freddy) breaks out of Jesse’s chest crossing several boundaries all at once.

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