Posts Tagged ‘Jason Zinoman’

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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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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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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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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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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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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I have a confession to make. I never actually watched  Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho before, although I knew a bit about it. I knew or thought I knew that it all happened at the Bates Motel. I had heard of the famous shower scene and seen cuts from and parodies of it. I knew that Norman Bates was the real killer and that his mother was dead and that’s about it. It’s not that I had avoided watching it, I had seen several other Hitchcock movies (one of my favorite is The Birds which my next post will be about). I had just never got around to it. So I watched Psycho for the first time from a rather unique perspective.

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The first thing I noticed was what a nice guy Norman Bates seemed to be. He seemed so friendly and sincere. That is until he revealed his little secret behind the painting.

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The second thing I noticed was how much he believed in the whole “mother” charade. (Well, no, the second thing I noticed was the whole bird thing, as I said one of my favorites.) He seemed truly shocked to find the murder scene, as if he had never seen it before, and it couldn’t have been a “show” because no one else was around.

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Seeing the complete shower scene for the first time was impressive. I knew pretty much what to expect, but the quick flash cuts and Janet Leigh‘s acting skills made me see why it has become such a classic. I watched the Steven Soderbergh mash up of  the original shower scene with Gus Van Sant‘s  remake and the thing that stood out to me was that Leigh did a much better job of acting the scene. As they were both sliding down the wall, Leigh’s eyes still held a little life in them and the reach out was a natural grasp for help, but Anne Heche‘s eyes are already dead and when her hand reaches out there is no reason for it except someone told her to.

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Jason Zinoman pointed out that many of the horror directors that followed Hitchcock felt that he had ruined the movie with the explanatory scene at the end of the film. I saw the film before reading Zinoman’s comments, but I too felt there was something off about the scene. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. It reminded of a mystery when the detective calls everyone together to explain how he knows who-done-it. I appreciated a lot of the information presented in that scene, like Bates’ Oedipus Complex,  the fact that he had killed his mother, and the reason that he was so convincing in the “mother” charade. But it did seem like a cheating way to go about it.

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I could do a whole other blog posting about Hitchcock’s directorial choices including the car that almost doesn’t sink, the groundbreaking camera angles, the special effect rigs, whether the stab in the shower scene was shot backwards (this guy makes a strong point 8 frames),

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and the eerie correlation between Marion and Norman, but perhaps that would be saying too much.

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