Posts Tagged ‘horror conventions’

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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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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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

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).

BC eyeKiller

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.

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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Lone_Survivor1 I recently watched Peter Berg‘s Lone Survivor (2013) based on the book written by the survivor of the incident the movie represents. As I sat in the darkened theater I found myself experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety, revulsion, and the gut clenching visceral reactions to images of spewing and oozing blood, Lone-Survivor-clipgore, broken bones protruding from mangled limbs, and the neurological pain of association as I watched bodies striking rocks and stones while falling off cliffs.Screen-Shot-2013-08-02-at-10_07_53-AM I realized that these were the same emotional responses that are usually associated with horror films. According to Cherry, “it is the emotional or physiological responses that are as (if not more) important than any specific narrative or thematic characteristic of the genre” (37). Lone Survivor would be classified as a war movie, but it clearly evokes many of the same physiological responses that horror movies strive to create. Cherry points out that horror cinema is “a set of subgenres within shifting boundaries” (15), boundaries that have expanded greatly over the years to keep audiences interested and scared. War movies used to be a relatively safe genre with good guys and bad guys, glorious heroes and antiseptic deaths, but screenshot-med-02starting with Saving Private Ryan in 1998 (or maybe even earlier with Apocalypse Now) war movies’ search for realism has blurred the lines between genres. After all, what is Predator but a war movie with an alien enemy?imagesCAOOAJKB

In Horror Brigid Cherry says that the function of horror is “to scare, shock, revolt, or otherwise horrify the viewer” (4). In 1932 Tod Browning’s was already using some of the standard horror conventions to scare and horrify his viewers. In the beginning of the movie the “freaks” are represented not as monsters but as “children,” sweet and innocent, unjustly teased and rejected by others, even other circus people. In fact, the two main little people have facial features similar to children, but Browning gives a warning early in the film which sets up a more ominous tone; “Offend one and you offend them all.”

rejectedThe turning point in the movie happens at the wedding dinner when the “freaks” choose to accept Cleopatra as “one of us,” but she rejects them en masse, and the audience is forced to ask itself “who’s the real monster?” After this event the entire tone of the move switches. The “freaks” are set in more sinister lighting, peering out from the shadows, through windows, and from under stairs. watchingCherry points out that this lighting change is “a comment on the state of the world or the psyche of the individual,” (62) or in this case individuals.

This turn of intent on the part of the “freaks” is highlighted in the chase scene when they are represented creeping along relentlessly, crawling through the mud under wagons to get at the woman who rejected their acceptance, finally turning her physically into one of them.

The image of them pulling themselves along the ground reminded me of many monster movies I have seen and set the movie clearly in the horror genre.Browning_Freaks_GroupCrawl