Archive for the ‘Occult’ Category

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.

 

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.

JB crime scene

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.

House blood House fingers

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.”  

House-Giant-Gorgeous house skeleton House face House fire face 

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).

Ex 1

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