Posts Tagged ‘fear’

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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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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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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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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Ghostsom2I love John Carpenter. Well, I love his work. I’ve never actually met the man. I saw Halloween in the theater as a young teenager and I was hooked (yeah I know I’m giving away my age). There is just something about the edgy music and visual effects that get my skin tingling, and those combined with a great storyline keeps his movies jumping around my head for days and sometimes years later. For a long time, Escape from New York was my favorite of his movies followed by The Thing.Of course it could have had something to do with the fact that I have had a crush on Kurt Russell ever since his The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes days (once again showing my age), but a few years ago Ghosts of Mars trumped Russell to be come my new favorite Carpenter movie, although I knew it was my favorite, I couldn’t quite say why.253348-ghosts

Brigid Cherry says “the point of analysis here is to ask what the film has to say about the world it reflects” (210). While reading about “Horror and the Cultural Moment” (167) and the samples that Cherry provides, I had to ask myself, what does this film say about the new century that we are creating? Cherry talks about the “changing roles of women” and how “the heroine becomes increasingly self-sufficient and the male characters more ineffectual” (174), but Ghosts of Mars does not end with a final girl fighting off the monster on her own.

UF9KaG5LbGU4UUkx_o_at-the-last-moment-ghosts-of-mars-compromises-its-The changing roles of women can be seen in the political structure of the human colony on mars, a matriarchal government where even the police force is run by women. However, the final survivors have even more to say about the structure of relationships in the twenty-first century. One man and one woman working together, watching each other’s back, represent the more collaborative nature of relationships, or perhaps society’s acceptance of masculine and feminine unity within the self. One black person and one white person represent changing race relationships and perhaps the acceptance of inter-racial couples.

ghmar_stl_1_h_8x10The monsters in the show are aliens, but they are the original inhabitants of the planet. This could represent the terroristic threat from countries that have been affected by imperialistic practices of the Western nations of power. The monsters are also invisible until they invade and take over the body they enter, transforming it through mutilation. This could represent the fear of threat from the inside such as sleeper cells, home-grown terrorist, and radical political movements.

Of course, none of these things explain why I find the movie so appealing that I can watch it over and over again, but they do say a lot about the “cultural moment” of the movie.

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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