Posts Tagged ‘Carol Clover’

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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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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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

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).

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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.

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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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looking upGeorges Franju‘s Les Yeux Sans Visage or Eyes Without a Face is a poetry of images, disturbing images, yes, but also beautiful images. Eyes, of course are everywhere.

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Obsesses eyes, frightened eyes, hopeful eyes, wary eyes, longing eyes, searching eyes, blank eyes, dead eyes, wondering eyes. Edith Scob‘s eyes are the most impressive and expressive because for most of the movie that is all she has to emote with as Christiane Génessier the faceless woman behind the mask.

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Carol Clover points out that, like folk-tales, horror films have a predictable cast of characters, namely the victim, the monster, and the hero (12), but in modern horror films, enabled by the rise of feminism, often the victim and hero combine together to form what Clover calls “the female victim-hero” (4). Clover also discusses the story of Carrie White from the film Carrie based on the novel by Stephen King in which, throughout the story, Carrie takes on all three roles. I suggest that Christiane does the same in this film.

eyes3 In the beginning of the movie Christiane is presented as a victim trapped in her ivory tower by her controlling father and his over-loyal assistant. She is treated more like a doll than a person, and she resembles a doll as well. eyeswithoutaface390Her mannerisms come across as very doll-like. When the mask is on, she does not speak throughout the first part of the movie. When she sneaks out of her room and hides in the garage watching her father and his assistant come out of the hidden passageway, the audience wonders what she will discover and what she will do about it.

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However, her actions upon finding the girl strapped to the operating table reveal that she was aware of the room and it’s purpose all along, framing her as, if not accessory to the actions taken there, at least complacent in them, revealing a monstrous nature along with her monstrous face. The mask takes on a more sinister feel reminding one of other silent, masked monsters.

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WHEN-DOVES-FLYAfter the new skin graft does not take, and she returns to her mask, she once again takes on the role of victim asking the assistant to kill her using the drugs that her father uses to put down the dogs that he experiments on. Finally, she turns into “a monstrous hero” (4) when she kills the assistant imagesCAOOP1ISand sets free the next girl scheduled for mutilation as well as the dogs, who ironically tear off the face of the doctor.

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 But as she wanders off into the night, one wonders what she will become next.

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According to Laura Mulvey, “The cinema offers a number of pleasures. One is scopohilia” (2). In Michael Powell‘s Peeping Tom deals directly with the issue of scopophilia in the case of Mark Lewis, a young man who was abused as a child by a controlling father preoccupied with “the reaction of the nervous system to fear.” Although Mark’s scopophilia seems to be less about sex and more about his desire to please his dead father, Mulvey’s article can be useful in analysing many elements of this movie. Mulvey talks about the “traditional exhibitionist role” of women (4) and the male’s unconscious desire to punish her because she represents castration by her lack of penis (5). She also discusses the controlling male gaze (2) and women as property (5). These point are relevant in several ways. PEEPINGTOM24First, Mark controls the gaze of the audience when he takes control of the camera and we see what he sees. Second, the three women that he chooses to film are all performers (exhibitionists) of a sort. Third, by filming these women he takes possession of them and by killing them he seals that possession as permanent, literally catching their last moments of life. Forth, the method of death, the torment at the time of death, can be seen as a punishment for attracting his gaze to begin with.

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I don’t particularly agree with this analysis. I think Mark’s story is more about missed love. First from his father and then from the girl downstairs that he discovered just a little too late. And it would seem that the director agrees with me. According to Carol Clover, Micheal Powell is quoted as saying that the movie was “a film of compassion, of observation, and of memory…a very tender film” (177).peepingtom3