Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

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

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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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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.)

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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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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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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.

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

Brigid Cherry explains that creatures in horror films are often refered to as “Monsters from the Id” (99).  Considering that the Id is often refered to as the child-like portion frankenstein1931_18of the subconscious James Whale‘s Frankenstein creates the quintessential “Monster from the Id.” The creature, played by  Boris Karloff, is innocent and eager to learn. This search for understanding is exemplified when Dr. Frankenstein first exposes the creature to light and he reaches towards it instead of shying away. The scene with the little girl also shows the creature’s innocence, playing gently with flowers, and his desire to learn, testing to see if the girl will also float.frankenstein--644x362 This time with tragic results.

At one point in the movie, Dr. Frankenstein explains his reason for creating the creature as his own search for understanding. “Have you never wanted to do something dangerous? Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud and what changes the darkness into light?”

Frye-FrankensteinAs with children, the creature learned violence from those around him, the jealous taunting by  Fritz and bloodthirsty revenge sought by the torch-bearing mob. The creature was also rejected by the one who created him, leaving him alone and defenseless, or to his own defenses without any guidance on social behavior, mistreated and misunderstood. Such actions by parents have created numerous monsters  in our society.

 

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