Archive for March, 2014

Wes Craven’s 1984 classic  A Nightmare on Elm Street starts out in the midst of a full force nightmare and, in my opinion, never leaves it. The story is set up like sleeping is dangerous and the characters attempt to stay awake to stay alive. Often times it is hard to sort out if the characters are awake or not, but there is evidence that the entire story is all a dream (or nightmare) from beginning to end, and no one ever wakes up.

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AN carOn the first day, after the beginning nightmare, there are a group of young girls in white dresses playing jump rope and singing a rhyme about Freddie; “One, two, Freddie’s coming for you…” There is also a strange mist in the air. This same group of girls and mist are also seen in the ending scene where the car is possessed by Freddie and all the dead characters are back. The sing song voices and misty appearance presents an obvious dream-like quality. The fact that the older kids are on their way to school, but the younger children have time to play jump rope, indicates that things are out of place, a common element in dreams. The idea that the little girls would be out playing in white dresses is also out of place in reality.

AN roofAnother hint that the whole thing is a dream are the inconsistencies as to when Kruger is visible and when he is not. When the first girl is killed by an unseen force while her boyfriend watches, it seems to set up the rule that if someone is dreaming that person can see Kruger but people watching what is happening who are awake can not. When Nancy is saved by her alarm, it sets up the rule that if someone wakes up while fighting Kruger that person is safe.AN drag Later both of these rules are broken.  When Nancy sees her friend dragged down the school hallway (obviously a dream) she can not see Kruger doing the dragging, and when the sheet is tied around the neck of the boy in jail, no one but the audience is there to watch, he does not see Freddie, and when he wakes up it does not go away. All of these things seem to indicate that he is in someone else’s dream.AN hangingZinoman points out that the darker tones of the New Horror movement reflects the fears and problems that youth face (75). The ambiguity of the dream world in Nightmare seems to correspond with the paranoia that Zinoman addresses. Craven’s own rejection of his religious upbringing (72) added to the cultural rejection of authority creating a piece of work that says, You can’t trust anyone or anything, even your own eyes.AN bars

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch was Tommy Lee Wallace‘s directing debut. I saw it for the first time not long after it left the theaters, and like many other fans I was thoroughly disappointed. When I discovered that John Carpenter’s real plan was an anthology with each years release being a different movie by a different director, I thought “they should have used a different name.” I quickly learned that Martin Harris agreed with me (100). Apparently the name, as well as the deceptive marketing campaign were all the studio’s idea (101-102). I am glad that I got a chance to revisit the movie from a unbiased perspective.

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H3 shapeOne thing I noticed this time was the amount of homage that was paid to other movies. Of course, there are the many references to the original two Halloween movies; H3 masksthe quiet mannerisms of the automatons, the dark looming “shapes” watching, the predominance of masks, the original film playing on televisions, Dr. Daniel Challis‘s ex-wife is played by Nancy Kyes (the same actress who played Annie Brackett in the first Halloween), and as Harris points out Cochran represents the “embodiment of evil” (104) just as Michael Myers did.

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H3 under MikeThere is also the great connection of Dick Warlock. He played Myers in Halloween II and plays one of the killer robots in Halloween III. I found this great image that shows an amalgamation of both rolls.H3 duel image

H3 girl robotThe attacking disembodied arm from the Ellie robot plays tribute to Oliver Stone‘s The Hand (1981), Freddie Francis‘s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), or perhaps Herbert L. Strock‘s  The Crawling Hand (1963). The name of the town and the Ellie robot were both references to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (101).

The deserted motel in Santa Mira, the black lingerie and the old lady in the rocking chair who turns out not to be real all bring to mind Alfred Hitchcock‘s PsychoH3 lingereH3 hotelH3 knitting robot

The twirling circle of light reminded me of Steven Spielberg‘s  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

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I love Wallace’s use of various shades of orange and black (the universal colors of Halloween) throughout the movie; the sun setting behind the trick-or-treaters, the glowing flames behind the factory, and even the pumpkin colored goo that emerged from the dead robots. A subtle but beautiful tribute to the holiday that created the franchise.H3 factory burns

H3 silloette      H3 goo Bravo! Wallace. Bravo!

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So, you already know that I am a big John Carpenter fan, and that Halloween was the first of his films that I ever saw. That viewing, 36 years ago, left a lasting impression on me. I remember leaving the theatre with my friends, and how we all laughed nervously because one of them had a babysitting job that night. The show was just plain creepy and the monster still creeps me out to this day. I went to a haunted house a few yearshalloweenblu12-1 ago and they had a Michael Myers wandering around outside. Even though I knew the boy who was wearing the costume, I wouldn’t let him get near me. The plain jumpsuit, masked face and silent mannerisms were too well copied.

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H. P. Lovecraft is reported as saying,Halloween-23halloween distance “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (Zinoman 62). Carpenter captures the fear of the unknown with his faceless, emotionless, blank creature. He could be anyone under there. And even more, he could be anywhere.halloween out the door

halloweenmichael1978According to Zinoman, “the toughest challenge of every monster movie is making the appearance of the creature live up to expectations” (113). This is what he refers to as “The Monster Problem.” Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of the Alien series of movies as well as The Return of the Living Dead and Total Recall, among others, agreed with Carpenter that the scariest parts are in the waiting. By creating an empty, blank creature Carpenter solved this “Monster Problem” (Zinoman 183). Even though we halloween Loomis_saves_Lauriesee the monster lurking in the background, we only actually see his face twice, once when he is a little boy and once for a brief moment right before he is shot by Dr. Loomis. For the majority of the movie he is little more than a ghost, a product of a wild imagination, a boogey man. And as little Tommy Doyle says, “You can’t kill the boogey man,” but watch out because he can kill you.

 

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Bob Clark‘s Black Christmas seems to purposely rebel against, if not all, at least some of the standard conventions of the slasher movie genre. Carol Clover presents the components of a slasher movie as “killer, locale, weapons, victims, and shock effects” (26).

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In Black Christmas we never find out who the Killer is or why he is killing. We see him observe the house and climb the trellis into the attic through the use of the I-camera, but other than his hands and a single eye, we never see the killer. We know little about him except that he is stuck in some past indiscretion, “Agnes it’s Billy. Don’t tell what we did Agnes.” I guess he could fall under Clover’s description of a monster “whose only role is that of killer” (30).

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Although the killer hangs out in the attic and in facts kills one of his victims in the attic and the final girl ends up in the basement, most of the killings themselves do not take place in a “terrible place” (30). They take place in the relatively safe local of home and in at least two cases, in the victims own room.

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The killer in this film seems to take no thought in weapon, but, except for the cop, instead uses a weapon of convenience. The first victim is smothered by the plastic dry cleaner wrapping he is hiding behind in the closet. The second by a hook on a chin that happens to be hanging in the attic. The third by a glass unicorn displayed on a self above the bed. He does keep in line with Clover’s “pretechnological” definition (31).

BC virginVictims

The victims in this film are older than most. College girls and since they drink freely most likely in their early twenties. Also the first victim is not sexually active or engaging in any immoral activity. In fact, Barb labels her a virgin.

BC barbFinal Girl

The final girl is usually obvious from the beginning of the movie, but in this case I was sure that Barb would be the final girl in the beginning of the movie. She fit the description better than the others. Although most of the girls have adrogenous names, (Barb, Jess, Phyl) Barb is presented with a definite masculine feel. In the first scene she spends most of the time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. Her hair is pulled up and she is wearing a man’s shirt. She is the one who stands up to the pervert on the phone, but in fact, Barb turns out to be more like her name, a annoyance to everyone including the police. The true final girl is not only not virginal, she is pregnant and planning an abortion. She is also very feminine.BC Jess

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Okay, so I have another confession to make. Believe it or not, before this week I had also never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, any of them. Unlike Psycho, I had no real desire to see what I thought would be a bloody gore-fest. I was wrong. As Jason Zinoman points out, Tobe Hooper went to great lengths not to show too much. TCM girl on hookHe called the MPAA to find out just what he could get away with and still keep his rating. “The result is a movie that is actually far less bloody than its reputation” (Zinoman 142). TCM on hookTalking about the scene where Teri McMinn as Pam is placed on a meat hook, Zinoman says, “It’s a credit to the direction that fans think they see more than they do” (140).

TCM maskAccording to Carol Clover, Hooper’s Massacre was the transition film between what she calls the first phase (1960-1974) and the second phase (1974-1986) of the cinematic formula known as the slasher film (26). the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-girl-crawl-escapeReading about Clover’s components of the genre and especially her description of the Final Girl,  Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns reminded me of what Dr. Hannibal Lecter called “fledgling attempts.” She is as Clover says, “abject terror personified” (35), but she is not “watchful to the point of paranoia” (39). In fact it is her brother that calls the alarm saying, “we ought to get help.” But as Clover points out, the Final Girl is an evolution, a “piecemeal absorption of functions previously represented in males” (62).

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thetexaschainsawmassacre197403Sally, near the beginning of this evolution, does not fit the complete definition of the Final Girl. She is the only one in her party to survive the night of terror and live to be rescued (Clover 35). TCM running with truck driverHowever, she does not seem more boyish or sexually reluctant than her friend Pam (40). Although her clothing is more conservative than Pam’s, it is not masculine.

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I don’t think Sally shows more courage or levelheadedness (36), instead she just seems luckier in her escape from the misfit family of crazed degenerates.

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Before I talk about the movie I wanted to show you this great example of Hitchcock’s amazing humor.

As I said in my previous posting, Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds is one of my favorite horror movies. As a kid I watched it along with George A. Romero‘s original Night of the Living Dead whenever they came on television. I must admit that because of Hitchcock’s classic I have always been slightly afraid of birds, and I still get a creeped-out feeling when ever I see more that a few birds amassing on a telephone line or field. I’ve seen the movie many times, but I hadn’t watched it in many years until this assignment. The Birds 3As I watched the film today, I remembered yelling at the screen as a child, telling Tippi Hedren to turn around as the birds amassed behind her (a great example of what Zinoman explains about surprise vs. suspense), birds1pleading for the kids not to run when they left the school, crying when Suzanne Pleshette lay dead on the steps, and really hating the “know-it-all” bird lady, played by Ethel Griffies. (By the way, that scene works much better than the end scene of Psycho to explain what’s going on.)

the birds second body   The Birds 4

Kyle Bishop wrote “The Threat of the Gothic Patriarchy in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds” in which he centers much of his argument around Lydia Brenner and the Brenner house. As I watched the movie I looked for some of Bishop’s examples of “Gothic Patriarchy.” Frankly, my own reading of the film is quite different. I may, in fact, make this the subject of my final paper for this class, but here I will point out a few obvious flaws with Bishop’s arguments. the_birds_1963_birds_attack_the_houseBishop states, “The Brenner home similarly represents a patriarchical legacy, a legacy once controlled by Frank Brenner, but now managed by his widow Lydia (Jessica Tandy)” (139). He represents the dead father as controlling and stern and yet Lydia talks about how much he understood the children and were such a part of their lives. Bishop also argues the-birds first bodythat “Lydia wants her family to remain with her in their home…For Lydia, her house represents the old power dynamic that had existed when her husband was alive” (140), and yet she is the only one to suggest leaving that home instead of staying when the final attack is imminent. Like the people in the diner, Bishop also suggests that the bird attacks are centered around Melanie Daniels, but the first attack, the one on the fishing boat, occurred at least a week before she arrived, and the first person killed by the  birds was a farmer that she had never met and had nothing to do with.

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At one point Annie Hayworth explains to Melanie that Lydia is “afraid of any woman who would give Mitch the one thing she can’t – love.” When Lydia talks about how well her husband related to the children she says how much she wishes she could be like that. During the course of the movie, Melanie teaches Lydia how to be caring and nurturing and in the end Lydia uses those skills to comfort Melanie during their escape.

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I have a confession to make. I never actually watched  Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho before, although I knew a bit about it. I knew or thought I knew that it all happened at the Bates Motel. I had heard of the famous shower scene and seen cuts from and parodies of it. I knew that Norman Bates was the real killer and that his mother was dead and that’s about it. It’s not that I had avoided watching it, I had seen several other Hitchcock movies (one of my favorite is The Birds which my next post will be about). I had just never got around to it. So I watched Psycho for the first time from a rather unique perspective.

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The first thing I noticed was what a nice guy Norman Bates seemed to be. He seemed so friendly and sincere. That is until he revealed his little secret behind the painting.

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The second thing I noticed was how much he believed in the whole “mother” charade. (Well, no, the second thing I noticed was the whole bird thing, as I said one of my favorites.) He seemed truly shocked to find the murder scene, as if he had never seen it before, and it couldn’t have been a “show” because no one else was around.

Psycho with birdPsycho after murder

Seeing the complete shower scene for the first time was impressive. I knew pretty much what to expect, but the quick flash cuts and Janet Leigh‘s acting skills made me see why it has become such a classic. I watched the Steven Soderbergh mash up of  the original shower scene with Gus Van Sant‘s  remake and the thing that stood out to me was that Leigh did a much better job of acting the scene. As they were both sliding down the wall, Leigh’s eyes still held a little life in them and the reach out was a natural grasp for help, but Anne Heche‘s eyes are already dead and when her hand reaches out there is no reason for it except someone told her to.

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Jason Zinoman pointed out that many of the horror directors that followed Hitchcock felt that he had ruined the movie with the explanatory scene at the end of the film. I saw the film before reading Zinoman’s comments, but I too felt there was something off about the scene. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. It reminded of a mystery when the detective calls everyone together to explain how he knows who-done-it. I appreciated a lot of the information presented in that scene, like Bates’ Oedipus Complex,  the fact that he had killed his mother, and the reason that he was so convincing in the “mother” charade. But it did seem like a cheating way to go about it.

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I could do a whole other blog posting about Hitchcock’s directorial choices including the car that almost doesn’t sink, the groundbreaking camera angles, the special effect rigs, whether the stab in the shower scene was shot backwards (this guy makes a strong point 8 frames),

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and the eerie correlation between Marion and Norman, but perhaps that would be saying too much.

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