Friday, December 16, 2011

My horror movies.

So, I finally got around to cataloguing my horror DVDs, and I thought this would be a good time to ask what you might be interested in reading about next! Take a look at the list, and let me know if anything catches your eye! I bolded the movies that I have blog post ideas about already. And I italicized ones I have already written about.

  1. Splice
  2. Let The Right One In
  3. Shutter
  4. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy
  5. Dark Moon & Vampire Werewolf Collection
  6. End of Days
  7. TEETH
  8. Mimic
  9. Fangoria Frightfest Presents Fragile
  10. Friday the 13th
  11. Silent Hill
  13. The Descent: Part 2
  14. Insidious
  15. Hatchet
  16. The Devil's Backbone
  17. What Lies Beneath
  18. The Legend of Hell House
  19. Messengers
  20. Pet Sematary 1
  21. The Frighteners
  22. Black Christmas
  23. Behind the Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon
  24. The Ruins
  25. Inside
  26. Dead Alive
  27. Dark Water
  28. The Others
  29. Friday The 13th REMAKE
  30. American Psycho
  31. The Mist
  32. May
  33. Joy Ride/
  34. Wrong Turn
  35. Martyrs
  36. The Host
  37. Gothika
  38. The Orphanage
  39. 30 Days of Night
  40. Red Dragon
  41. Monsters
  42. Ed Wood
  43. Wake Wood
  44. Roger Corman Creature Collection
  45. Sleepaway Camp
  46. The Descent
  47. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  48. [Rec] 2
  49. An American Werewolf in London
  50. Pontypool
  51. Return Of The Living Dead 1
  52. Ninth Gate/
  53. Stir Of Echoes
  54. Mother
  55. Species
  57. Night Of The Demons
  58. Night of the Demons
  59. Donkey Punch 
  61. Manhunter
  62. A Tale of Two Sisters
  63. The Ninth Configuration
  64. Wolf Creek
  65. CRONOS
  66. Sleepy Hollow
  67. Ghost Ship
  68. Prom Night
  69. Crazies
  70. House of Wax
  71. Night of the Demons 2
  72. Puppet Master
  73. Constantine
  74. Chronicles Of Riddick Trilogy
  75. Rubber
  76. Sorority Row
  77. Firestarter: 
  78. Firestarter 2
  79. Oldboy
  80. I Saw the Devil
  81. The Final Destination Thrill-Ogy
  82. Exorcism Of Emily Rose
  83. Cape Fear
  84. Altered
  85. Black Christmas
  86. Evil Dead II
  87. The Haunting in Connecticut
  88. Return to House on Haunted Hill
  89. Halloween
  90. Dr. Giggles
  91. Carrie
  92. Piranha
  93. High Tension
  94. Frozen
  95. The Last Exorcism
  96. Lake Placid
  97. Frontier(s)
  98. The Cable Guy
  99. Pans Labyrinth
  100. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  101. From Hell/
  102. Good Son
  103. Jennifers Body
  104. Dark Water
  105. Shutter orig
  106. The Evil Dead
  107. The Addams Family / 
  108. Addams Family Values
  109. Drag Me to Hell
  110. Ju-on
  111. Children of the Corn
  112. The Perfect Host
  113. Quarantine
  114. Deadgirl
  115. Rec
  116. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  117. The Blade Trilogy
  118. The Sixth Sense
  119. The Wicker Man
  120. Fright Night
  121. 28 Weeks Later
  122. Critters 1-4 Collection
  123. Silent Night Deadly Night
  124. The Silence of the Lambs
  125. Trick 'r Treat
  126. Thirteen Ghosts
  127. Jaws
  128. His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th
  129. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  130. House on Haunted Hill
  131. Flightplan
  132. Restraint
  133. Haunting
  134. Cloverfield
  135. Session 9
  136. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
  137. The Thing
  138. 1408

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nothing new, done really well: The Crazies (2009)

The Crazies (2009) opens with the first game of the baseball season in the small town of Ogden Marsh. Teenagers are out on the field playing, and the sheriff is standing with his deputy, making jokes about the pitcher's speeding tickets. It's a scene that doesn't seem to be in any hurry at all, we get a feel for the town and the good natured sheriff right away. Even when a man comes marching toward the game from across the field, with a shotgun in his hands, it still feels under control. "You're drunk," the sheriff tells him. He knows the man, and thinks he understands the situation. "Just put the gun down."

The man is not drunk. This is the beginning of the end.

The Crazies is a remake of a George Romero movie, and one of the few remakes that surpasses its source material. It is stylish without being showy. Where most horror movies looking to be edgy would open with harsh, threatening music, The Crazies follows in the footsteps of another great remake, Dawn of the Dead, and opens with the sad slow voice of Johnny Cash. The camera work spends as much time on the quiet beauty of the small town as it does on the destruction and mayhem to come.

The plot follows a pretty obvious formula, but with more compassion than you might expect. In the beginning, it's an outbreak-zombie movie in a small town, and yet it understands that "small town" doesn't mean redneck. There's no condescending "simpler way of life" feel, either. This is simply where and how the characters live. When things start going wrong, when people start turning into monsters, they are not just monsters. People from their lives mourn them. The survivors who are forced to shoot them in self-defence struggle with guilt over killing someone they knew.

When the military squads show up in gas masks to quarantine the town, they manhandle everyone. This is the new villain. But even they don't stay faceless and monstrous. It isn't long before we're shown a soldier without his mask, terrified because his superiors told him he would die without it, told him there was no hope of saving these people.

The relationships between the main characters aren't complicated. The Sheriff is married to the doctor, and they're expecting a child. The deputy is a bit of a wild card, but has a loyalty to the badge. There's not a lot you can say about any of them, but they're believable and appealing.

There are some tense, inventive set-pieces that keep us from ever getting too comfortable, especially a scene that takes place in a car wash, and a horrifyingly slow murder rampage in a make-shift hospital ward. But it's the emotional intelligence that makes this movie feel like more than the sum of its scares. The Crazies feels measured and intelligent. This is a completely formulaic movie that refuses to over-simplify.

Lots of rape, hardly any rapists.

There is way more rape in horror movies than there are rapists. It is so often cartoonish monsters, or bad guys so evil that anyone can look at them with disgust. I think there is a place in horror for depictions of rapists that are a little closer to the truth - rapists who have excuses for themselves, who don't see themselves as evil at all.

Having a rapist like that in a movie might hit a nerve with someone, hit a little too close to home. It might make it harder for real live men to believe those self-justifications if they see them echoed on the screen so clearly connected to the horror of rape. If movie rapists aren't always just monsters that look nothing like real human beings, if they are monstrous because of their actions and the effect of their actions on others, it might occur to more men that what they're thinking about is actually rape.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What can we ignore? Roman Polanski and Victor Salva.

What do you do with someone like Roman Polanski? I have heard all the arguments for separating the artist from the art, and none of them sit quite right with me.

It isn't that I expect the world, or art to be perfect. I recently read a very good essay on how to be a fan of problematic art while not being a bad person. That is something that everyone must struggle with at some point, and certainly it comes up a lot in my own horror movie fandom. It is almost impossible to be a serious fan of horror movies if you limit your appreciation to unproblematic films. There are some shining examples of films that aren't problematic of course, but often being a horror fan requires acknowledging the problematic elements and allowing yourself to appreciate the film anyway.

But where do you draw the line? A film that has problematic scenes is one thing, a film directed by a child rapist is another thing entirely.

Roman Polanski's crime is a topic that has been debated to death, I suppose, and while it is not for everyone, I have come to a conclusion that works for me. I will not watch his films. I understand that they are influential, and have been important to our film history in general, and even to horror film history in particular. It would be irresponsible of film schools to ignore them, but I do not have the same obligations as a film school or museum, and I can evaluate historical relevance lower than my moral requirements.

But it is still a murky subject for me, because I find myself being inconsistent. I will, for instance, watch the films of Victor Salva, another pedophile director. His Jeepers Creepers films are worth discussing, though they are of course far less influential or critically acclaimed than Polanski's. The crucial difference to me is that Salva was arrested and charged with his crimes, and he went to prison. He was punished (however adequately or inadequately he was punished is a different matter, and a complicated topic that I feel very conflicted about. But for our purposes here, he answered for his crimes in the only way our society knows how.) Roman Polanski, on the other hand, fled prosecution for his crime, and is completely unrepentant.

I don't know if I believe that someone can ever atone for a crime like raping a child, but it is a lot easier to be convinced by arguments about separating the art from the artist if the artist has had to answer for his crimes. If he hasn't answered for his crimes elsewhere, I can't watch his films without feeling that I myself am letting him get away with it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Good and Evil don't matter: Mother (2010)

Mother (2009) opens with the main actor, Kim Hye-ja, walking slowly toward the camera through a field. She walks slowly, visibly exhausted. But she walks with purpose, too. Then she stops and looks around, and the music starts, drums first. She begins to dance. The wind is blowing the grass, and she is swaying along with it, and her face is emotionless. It isn't what you expect from the opening of a Korean revenge film. It is strange and beautiful and sad.

Mother is about a woman who works hard to take care of her mentally disabled son. The movie deals with his disability in a frank way, showing his inability to care for himself, but also his struggle to be independent of her. And she gives him the freedom she can, but she clearly worries whenever he is off on his own. And those worries come true, in the inevitable way that worries always seem to.

Her son is eventually charged with murdering a young girl, because of circumstantial evidence. He's the easy answer for a small town that hasn't had to deal with a murder in years. He was seen near the crime, and he's not normal. Nobody normal could have committed an act like this, killing a young woman, posing her body on a rooftop in a confusing, clearly perverted way. He's not fit to defend himself against police questioning.

But she refuses to give up on him. She goes to the best lawyer in town and begs him to take the case. She hands out fliers, telling people her son is innocent. She even goes to the girl's funeral, half to pay her respects and half to defend her son. This is as disastrous as you expect, but it broke my heart, too. I do not have children, but I would do anything to protect my mother. I think that violence is never acceptable, but I would kill anyone who hurt her. So it is all too easy for me to fall in love with this character, a woman who will do anything to protect her son.

She doesn't give up. She does not even seem to view giving up as an option, and you can't help but wonder how much of this resilience she has built up over a lifetime raising a son with a disability. And it is compelling viewing even when protecting him is as straightforward as just trying to prove his innocence.

When a late movie twist calls his innocence into question, her doggedness survives the new information. She still does not give up, and she has to deal with an impossible choice between what is right and what she must do. Or rather, she has to deal with her guilt after making that impossible choice. Because she does not hesitate to commit horrible acts, even though her eyes are filling with tears. Her son needs her, and she doesn't see it as a choice at all.

At every turn, this movie was not what I expected. When we finally see what happened to the young woman, it is not bloody or perverted, it is a slow scene where we watch in horror as the son tries to understand what has happened and how to deal with it. This is a movie where violence is brief, and when it is horrific it is horrific because of how it affects people. The violence is devastating not because it is gory, but because it is so sad.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Horror Movie Recommendations: Part 3/3 (The FUN movies.)

These are horror movies that I love because they're fun. They might not push any boundaries, or qualify as the pinacle of the art, but they are the bread and butter of my horror movie life. This was the hardest of the 3 lists to cut down to recommendations that I thought would be both interesting and useful, so some movies  don't make the list just because I'm sure everyone has seen them (Evil Dead II for instance, or Shaun of the Dead). So, I hope you enjoy these movies as much as I do!

Thirteen Ghosts (2001 remake) There's no way I could write this list without Thirteen Ghosts. I've written about my love for this movie in much more depth before, but I'll sum it up here. Thirteen Ghosts is a movie in the true spirit of the William Castle original. It's totally more of a ride than a story. The big crazy mechanical house is a mechanism for moving the characters from one encounter to the next, and it moves us along with it. The alive people on screen are almost exclusively boring and obnoxious (with the exception of Matthew Lillard who is perfectly in his element here as a scenery chewing depraved psychic ghost hunting pillhead), but the ghosts are wonderful. The filmmakers put every bit of their love and care into the set design and the monster design, and as a showcase for those the movie is perfect. It's like a really interesting silent movie with the music replaced by idiotic dialogue.

Constantine (2005) Keanu Reeves is perfect as the main character, his disaffection coming across as part of the role, rather than detracting from it. Tilda Swinton is sexy and dangerous in equal parts as the androgynous angel Gabriel. Peter Stormare is even sexier and more dangerous as the devil, Lou. The visual direction is great, and everyone seems to be really enjoying themselves. I love this movie's take on magic and ghosts, and connecting with the other side, but I won't try and convince you that it is a smart movie. What it is, however, is a very fun movie.

The Perfect Host (2011) The plot of this movie is simple - a fugitive on the run takes a man hostage. The hostage is David Hyde Pierce, a very urbane (read: gay) man who is preparing to have a dinner party that evening. Also, he's a fucking maniac. The movie swings through twist after twist, but the real pleasure comes from watching Pierce playing crazy to perfection. You can't look away, because you get this feeling that this is what David Hyde Pierce is really like. He's the kind of villain that we need more of in this world of ours. Also I think people should say "Maniac" more.

The Addams Family (1991) This movie is SO GOOD. The jokes aren't laugh out loud funny, they're just off kilter. Everything in the life of this family is just askew, and it captures the alternate halloween universey feel of Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons well. I can probably quote this movie from beginning to end, from Raul Julia and Angelica Huston's pillow talk ("Don't torture yourself Gomez. That's my job." - or - "I would die for her. I would kill for her! Either way, what bliss.")  to the pride these weirdos have in just being themselves. ("The Addams family credo: We gladly feast on those who would subdue us. Not just pretty words.") This movie had a huge impact on my view of the world, and I love it. (Morticia: It was my first funeral. - Gomez: You were so beautiful. Pale and mysterious. No one even looked at the corpse.) I love the sequel, too!

Piranha (2010) I've written about this movie as well, and so I'll just post a short summary here. This movie is TERRIBLE for the first hour, and then becomes AMAZING. The last half hour of this movie mixes gore with T&A so indiscriminately that it hurts to think about it too hard. A woman in a bikini gets sliced from her shoulder down diagonally to her opposite hip. She has that stunned, "I just got cut in half" look on her face, and then the bra falls open, showing off her breasts. After a moment of breast exposure, the two halves of her body slide apart with a sick wet sound, and then the top half falls lifeless toward the camera. Tit first. In slow motion 3D. A woman is para-sailing topless, and they keep her in the water too long, only to speed the boat up so that she hangs bloody and naked from the parachute. Another character is eaten from the waist down and then the Piranhas fight over his penis. Then one of them throws it up.  It's like an emotionally stunted and yet imaginative twelve year old boy directed huge chunks of the movie.


Part 1 of the recommendations was "important" movies. Movies that are important to me, and to the horror genre in general.

Part 2 of this recommendation list was "Interesting" movies. Movies that aren't exactly successful, but which try something original or different and are definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Second chances: Halloween (1978)

I am going to watch Halloween (1978) again this weekend, and I'm going to try to see it with fresh eyes.

If you had asked me yesterday what I thought of Halloween, I would have told you that I think it's boring and overrated, but that's a confusion of tenses. I thought it was boring and overrated when I saw it, more than a decade ago. I watched Halloween and Rosemary's Baby the same night, and I thought, "Fuck those were two boring movies." And I've never really gone back and re-examined those opinions. I just filed them away in my head as "What I think about Halloween" and "What I think about Rosemary's Baby." But it isn't what I think, it's what I thought. I am not the same person I was, and the things I appreciate and understand about movies have changed along with me.

I don't think that a person needs to constantly re-evaluate the opinions they formed when they were younger, but it seems foolish to refuse to question them at all.

People I respect have recommended Halloween to me on several occasions, but I've always sort of dismissed them in favour of 20-year-old Joey's opinion. And that's insane, because 20-year-old Joey was a dipshit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Letting you scare yourself: The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project (1999) gets a lot of (deserved) credit for its influence in modern horror, spawning a decade and a half of handheld camera horror from the terrible (Paranormal Activity) to the brilliant (REC, The Last Exorcism), but I think it doesn't get enough recognition for how restrained it was. It suggested things in a way that defied immediate understanding or interpretation and forced you to strain your imagination harder, looking for explanation. That final shot in the basement particularly. It blew my mind when the camera caught the man just standing there facing the corner. That was not how horror movies ended! What did that even MEAN? And yet it was undeniably haunting. It stuck with me even more because I had no idea why it freaked me out so much.

This was a movie that got you to scare yourself, and did so very effectively. My memory and impression of the Blair Witch Project is partly based on the movie itself, but it is also based on the things I imagined on that car ride home along the back roads of Nova Scotia, and of the laughter and shared experience of my friends and I scaring one another.

I also have trouble separating my feelings about the movie from one of the most terrible things I've ever seen.

On that car ride home, we hit a cat. There was a thump, and then, after we stopped the car, there was a horrible wailing sound from the dark behind us. We had been scaring one another for a full half an hour by this point, and we were in the middle of nowhere with woods on all sides of us. None of us wanted to get out of the car to see what was making that sound, but eventually we did. The cat we hit wasn't dead, but it was only a matter of time. Part of its head had been crushed so that it stuck to the road, and the cat was flailing its body around that fixed point, making a sound that was more human than animal.

Sometimes a thing is so horrible that you find yourself in a confused place where you are living a combination of the horrifying reality and the romance of the STORY of the horrifying reality. You start seeing things the way you are going to look back and see them, this bloody mess of a dying animal coming right in the middle of that haunted feeling a good horror movie leaves you with. With nothing explained at the end, I was still in the world of the movie when I left that theatre, and so watching that cat die and burying it in the woods by the side of the road became a part of the Blair Witch Project for me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Just straight-up awesome: Inside.

is this any environment in which to raise a child?

Inside (2007) is a french horror film that I watched on the same day I watched Martyrs. And there is a lot that links them in addition to language. Both films are infamously brutal and violent, and both films have a single-minded clarity of vision that I find utterly compelling. The difference here, is that I hated Martyrs even while I admired it, and I absolutely love Inside.

This is not a movie that trades in subtlety. Two women are locked together in a house. The first is a pregnant woman who survived a recent car crash, and the second woman is trying to take the first's unborn baby from her with a pair of scissors. 

Knife to meet you?

Inside is not subtle, and god knows what insane point it might be trying to make about maternal instincts, but it is well made and fun to watch. Where Martyrs took away the audience's hope, Inside keeps you guessing what will happen. It is horrific, but never forgets that it is an entertainment. A grisly entertainment to be sure, but sometimes you don't want a creepy and atmospheric ghost story. Sometimes you want a train wreck of a film that hurtles forward while you alternate back and forth between holding your breath and saying, "What the FUCK?!" Sometimes you want a movie that threatens to show up in the middle of the night to take your baby from you with a pair of scissors.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How to survive a horror movie: Some fashion tips for the ladies.

1. Wear something unintentionally revealing. The trick here is to look sexy without looking like you enjoy sex. Even revealing shirts can look virginal and wholesome if they're white, for instance. We want to enjoy looking at you, but it's even better if it seems like you don't want us to enjoy it.

2. Subtle, naturalistic makeup. But don't go completely without. You aren't a lesbian for Christ's sake. We want you to look like the girl next door, but a subtle makeup job will hide pimples or blotches and keep you worth looking at. And, when things start going wrong, a little mascara makes tears so much sexier.

3. Accessorize. What we want to see here is books, glasses, maybe a backpack. These are all related to reading. Reading is exotic and therefore sexy. You are an exceptional woman. One in a million. We want to believe that you deserve to survive, and let's be honest your gender puts you at a disadvantage here. So you have to really sell it.

4. Undergarments should be simple, but try to avoid granny panties. You are going to survive this nightmare, but your clothes probably won't. Forewarned is forearmed.

5. Sensible shoes. Heels might make your calves look better, but you have to do a LOT of running. Women are always slowing us down with their stupid shoes. Seeing a girl in sneakers is a relief, to be honest. Fuckable but not high maintenance. Nice.

Good luck! Send pics!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Horror Movie Recommendations: Part 2/3 (The interesting movies.)

So, this is a list of horror movies I find interesting. They aren't the necessarily the best horror movies ever, or the most influential, but they try something original or different and are definitely worth your time. I am more impressed by a movie that tries something new and fails than by a well done but more traditional film. I love ideas! And ambition! 

click to purchase

Pontypool (2010) This is a zombie movie where you hardly see any zombies. It takes place in a radio station, and most of the action is heard, rather than seen. It's also a zombie movie where the zombie virus is transmitted via language instead of bodily fluids. The virus infects lexemes. I think this is the first linguistics horror movie, and for that alone I love it. Stephen McHattie is also really charming as the radio host, and the film has a hypnotic cadence to it. There are problems, though. An unexpected turn toward B Movie cartoonish mad scientist babble for a brief section toward the end is jarring and might not be to everyone's taste. And while I found the ending sort of lovely, it should be noted that it doesn't make much literal sense. When I watch it, I like to imagine that partway through they realize that logic is infected too, and so it has to be avoided if they want to survive.

click to purchase

Session 9 (2001) This is a daylight horror movie, which I always find strangely compelling. And it was filmed at the abandoned Danvers State Insane Asylum. The Danvers asylum is a classic and creepy building, built to the Kirkbride plan and I guess I should state here that the history of mental institutions is something I find fascinating and horrifying already. Sometimes you hear that a setting is as much a character as anyone else in a movie, and here that's very true. They milk the location for all it is worth, and it works. Add to this creepy glimpses and descriptions of the horrible things that were actually performed in these places, and a late movie unexpected modern re-enactment, and this is a movie that makes me feel cold in the pit of my stomach every time I watch.

click to purchase

The Last Exorcism (2010) is another handi-cam horror movie, but one that comes at it from an interesting perspective. The movie is meant to be a documentary following a charlatan priest, whose charm and good looks have carried him this far in life, but whose conscience has begun to get the better of him. So he's agreed to make this documentary exposing exorcism as fake. His job is just to provide a show, performing a fake exorcism and setting people's minds at ease. But things don't go as planned this time, and not as you might expect, either. It is unclear for a long time whether the girl in this movie is actually possessed or the victim of sexual abuse, and either way the priest has promised her something he can't provide. Help. Before coming completely off the rails with an idiotic ending, this is a movie that examines the responsibilities and costs of giving people something to believe in.

Shutter (2004) is a thai horror film that steals from just about every j-horror convention. There's a pale ghost with long black hair that always seems wet. There's flickering cuts, and there's a young woman who needs to find out what the ghost is trying to tell her. And there's an unexpected bleak ending. But in addition to some above-average scares and some really freaky scenes, Shutter also surprises by being an unexpectedly ambiguous and nuanced examination of the self-deceit and justifications of people who do terrible things but don't want to believe they are terrible people.  


Part 1 of the recommendations was "important" movies. Movies that are important to me, and to the horror genre in general.

Part 3 of the recommendations will be "Fun" movies. Horror movies that are just great gory ridiculous fun. Maybe not so scary, but definitely awesome.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Two takes on evil: Shutter VS Shutter.

Two Warnings: 

1) I am going to spoil the ending of these movies, because it is the ending I want to talk about. If you haven't seen Shutter, go watch the Thai Original, which I think is an amazing movie.  

2) A trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and victim blaming.


The Thai horror movie Shutter and its American remake are in many ways very similar. They're both derivative of that late 90s wave of pale-dark-haired-ghost blue-tinted j-horror. They both follow roughly the same plot, and end with the same bleak twist. They also both buck the trend of these ghost movies by having the haunting directly related to the actions of the main characters, rather than a mystery they stumble upon. 

The Thai movie takes those j-horror influences and crafts scares that still manage to feel fresh after decades of pale girls with wet black hair popping out at us. Partly this is because it doesn't rely on very many jump scares, and partly this is because it feels like it's crafted by people who are interested in scaring people in new ways. I found the remake to be almost entirely un-frightening but that's not really what I want to talk about. 

I want to talk about the variations on evil that the movies depict. In both films we are initially led to believe that a couple is being haunted because they hit a young woman while driving on a dark road. The ghost begins showing up in photographs, and then in more real ways. And in both movies, the girlfriend in the couple seems more interested in investigating than the boyfriend does. In both movies she discovers that the ghost is someone her boyfriend dated, and eventually learns that he was involved in this girl's sexual assault at the hands of his friends. 

The stories we're told of these past relationships are very similar. The boy hides a relationship with a strange and quiet woman from his friends. Both relationships end because the boyfriend gets weirded out by a gift that seems too extravagant. What's interesting here, is the differences in how the movies portray each man and their involvement in the assault, I think.

The Thai photographer boyfriend, Tun, has hidden the relationship with quiet and weird Natre from his friends. He laughs along when they tease her in the elevator. He's shown becoming distant after she gives him an expensive camera. When his drunk friends stumble across Natre working late at the university, they first harass and then rape her. Tun comes in part way through this scene, and stands there horrified with his camera. Natre is looking at him and calling out for help, but he doesn't move. Then one of his friends grabs him and tells him to take pictures, to keep her from telling anyone. Tun hesitates, but his friend yells at him, and so he lifts his camera and begins to take photos.

The American photographer boyfriend, Ben, is also dating the quiet Megumi in secret. But when he tries to break things off with her, she is hurt and tries to understand his sudden shift in behaviour. Megumi keeps trying to make contact with him, which he describes as her "being crazy." He tells his friends that she won't leave him alone, and they suggest a solution: drugging her at a party and taking naked photos of Megumi to blackmail her into staying away from Ben. They go through with this plan, with Ben luring her to a room at the party by telling her he wants to talk about their relationship, and then when the drugs take effect, he photographs her while his friends pull her clothes off. He then looks slightly pained when they lift her up to carry her to another room for sex, but turns his head to the side and literally looks the other way.

Both women leave the city to return to their small town homes after this, and both commit suicide. This all comes out as the present-day women discover the rape photographs hidden in their boyfriends' apartments. 

Tun tells his girlfriend about the rape sadly, saying that he knew he "should have done something." There's regret in his voice, but the language is distancing, like it was something terrible that happened that he handled poorly. He talks about it the same way he talked about having laughed at Natre with his friends in the elevator.

Ben, when explaining things to his wife, almost immediately returns to his justification that "she was crazy," and he didn't know what else to do. The American photographer is more active in causing the rape, and seems less remorseful about it, whereas the Thai photographer seems to be haunted by his choice and what it means about him. It changes the feel of the final scenes of the movie, but in an unexpected way I think.

Both movies end with the photographer photographing himself and realizing that the ghost has been sitting on his shoulders the whole time, a not entirely subtle weight that he's been carrying around. And both men try to kill themselves to escape the ghost's torment. They each wind up in a hospital, looking catatonic, and our last view is of the ghost still sitting on the photographer's shoulders in a reflection. They have no hope of leaving her behind.

In the American movie, the wife discovers the truth and leaves her husband. She walks out and says she needs time. Then stops and says, "No, I don't. I will not spend the rest of my life with you." He's a rapist, and he is getting what he deserves. His actions are painted as more intentional, and the movie seems to think this makes it more satisfying when he's punished at the end. He's alone in the hospital with the ghost on his shoulders, his wife long gone.

But in the Thai movie, Tun isn't alone in the hospital. His wife has come back in that final scene, and it leads you to believe that she may be able to forgive him. He's portrayed almost as a victim of circumstance, and certainly he seems to feel that way. He made a mistake and it's going to haunt him for the rest of his life. In a way, this makes the final scene so much more devastating. Because, looking in at his wife on the verge of forgiving him, and seeing the girl still sitting there, it is so clear that neither of them see the ghost. They only see Tun, weighed down by his actions. And you realize that at no point in the movie, was this about the victim. 

Tun is not portrayed as being as actively evil as Ben, but neither man is actually concerned for the woman they helped to rape. They're both concerned with their own mistake and their own suffering, and they've both found ways to justify the horrible thing they did. I don't know enough about Thai culture to speculate on whether the difference in their justifications is a cultural difference or not. I do think that both types of justification seem like something that could happen in our culture. 

The American version is very clear toward the end. This character is getting what he deserves. It's much more cut and dry. The Thai version is more insidious, because the character is made to seem less evil. He demonstrates regret and sadness as opposed to the American's anger and victim blaming. Both versions of the movie deal with self delusion and the dehumanization of others, but I think the Thai version is more uncomfortable and ultimately more effective, because by making Tun less obviously evil, it lets the viewer see reflections of their own self-justifications and failures of empathy. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Subtitles aren't for everyone: Rec vs Quarantine

I've posted about my love for REC before. And Quarantine is almost the exact same movie. It is very close to a shot for shot remake, and where it deviates, it does so in a way that understands the first movie. There's the addition of a new zombie attack scene, and a more upsetting interaction with the people who are quarantining them inside the building, but these are scenes that would have fit seamlessly into the original. It's an interesting idea, when someone remakes something like this, but doesn't try to re-imagine it so much as more fully imagine it. I still prefer Rec, but I think this is almost entirely because I saw it first. The characters in the remake are just as great, and the suspense is done just as well in most places, sometimes I felt like they lost the power of a scene, but then there would be a scene that I felt they made better and more creepy. 

In an earlier post I gave two examples of remakes I liked, Muppet Christmas Carol, and Dawn of the Dead. These were both re-imaginings more than remakes. And if you had asked me a week ago what I thought contributed to a successful remake, I would have almost certainly said, "a new vision of the story." But Quarantine is a very successful remake, not a re-imagining at all. If you liked REC you will like Quarantine. They are the same movie. 

It does bring new things to the table, though. It translates the movie and the context, bringing the story to a market that might not have seen it otherwise because of the language barrier/subtitles. It's easy to dismiss this sort of thing when subtitles aren't an issue for you, but for a lot of people they are a problem. And, while some of my favourite movies are subtitled foreign films (Devil's Backbone, Mother, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) there are some problems with it that are hard to ignore. Mother, for instance, is a beautiful and haunting film, not least because of a strange and almost dreamlike final scene. But when I was reading interviews with the director, he pointed out that this scene makes more literal sense if you knew that it is actually something that happens, busloads of korean ladies dancing together. It's a part of the culture that seemed almost impressionistic to me because I just didn't know. 

Subtitles can't translate the culture of a film with the words. They also struggle sometimes with timing, and it creates a disconnect when you're reading what is said, and seeing the acting, but never at exactly the same time. These problems are hardly enough to keep me from seeking out foreign films. But I watch a lot of movies, and my appetite is pretty wide-ranging. A person with less movie watching time, and so much to choose from, can't be faulted for discounting subtitled films if she thinks she'll get more out of films in her own language. There's already more than she'll ever be able to watch in her lifetime anyway. So, yes, Quarantine is almost the exact same film as Rec, but I think it's valuable nonetheless.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Night of the Demons VS Night of the Demons.

I've been picking up a lot of movie/remake pairs lately, trying to understand the dynamic. Because there's nothing inherently inferior about someone new telling a story. The Muppet Christmas Carol is not by any means the first story of Ebenezer Scrooge, but it is easily my favourite. It brings a sense of irreverence to the story while still treating the dark moments and central message with respect.

And some people will disagree, but I also prefer Zack Snyder and James Gunn's remake of Dawn of the Dead to the original. I love George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but I found his Dawn of the Dead sometimes a bit ponderous, and worse - boring. So, it's not just because these aren't the original that they're bad. Maybe it's because they're often sloppy and cheap cash grabs? But so many original horror movies are guilty of this, too. I guess those have the benefit of not being compared to an original version that already has a place in people's hearts, though.

creepy and fun

Night of the Demons(1988)/Night of the Demons (2010)

Night of the Demons is an interesting case, because I watched them both for the first time the same night. I loved the original, and thought the remake was idiotic. And on some levels that's not fair at all. These are both deeply stupid movies.

The original Night of the Demons has some of the worst acting and writing I've ever seen in a movie. There are exchanges in that first twenty minutes that are not just stupid, but actually grating, including a character who interacts exclusively through calling a girl a stupid bitch. And other characters seem to be walking info-dumps for the movie's rules. The final girl character is a simpering wimp who spends most of the movie locked in a room because she wouldn't put out. Even the actor who plays Angela is painful in these early scenes.

But everything changes once people start turning into demons. And I think it is because plot and dialogue go right out the window, and the special effects and weirdness take center stage. From this point on, the movie started to remind me of Evil Dead, and in the best possible way. The makeup effects were great and strange, and the director really understands the fun of the unexpected change. There are some truly bizarre scenes here that I don't want to ruin for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but it really felt like the director had found his element. This is a movie with terrible writing and some really classic visuals and an amazing imagination.

And Angela. Oh man, Angela. The actor who played Angela seemed just as stilted as everyone else as a human, but really lets it all out as a demon, and it's so much fun to watch. It's like seeing someone find their true calling. It's beautiful and creepy and so so insane. I went from considering turning the movie off, to finding myself loving it once the demons become involved. I love the idea of evil teasing and taunting people, not just killing them.


The remake of Night of the Demons is every bit as badly written as the original, but this time it has some recognizable faces spouting the stilted stupid dialogue. Eddie Furlong and Shannon Elizabeth, specifically. But having just watched the original, I held out hope for when the demons made their appearance.

Shannon Elizabeth actually made a better human Angela than the original. She's only really got one register, which is "sexy." But she makes Angela seem like a person, at least, not an awkward robot. Once she becomes a demon, though, it becomes apparent that this movie has no sense of imagination OR fun. There's no playfulness to this Angela at all. And so she winds up not being as creepy, either.

One of the most famous weird scenes from the original makes its way into the remake, but of course they take a scene that was an almost charming mix of exploitation and insanity, and they make it more extreme by involving a bucket of blood and a vagina. In a lot of ways, this is a re-imagining of Night of the Demons. The story is much more thought out, and the rules feel more established. Characters have bits of back story, and relationships that make sense. But that's not enough to save the movie from its lack of imagination or fun.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

House of Leaves pgs xi-53

So, I had a chance to make some headway on HoL, and my reaction so far is... mixed? The intro by the tattoo character who finds the manuscript was interesting enough. I found the voice really obnoxious though. Only a bit at first, and I thought that maybe it was something I could get used to, but then I loved the tone and voice of the actual manuscript so much that I found the times when the first voice butted in to be annoying distractions. And when his voice starts becoming rambly and almost delirious, I honestly started tuning out, which is not a good sign in a book where people kept telling me to pay attention to every word.

But oh, the Navidson Report! So good. I love hearing about this film, reading this close analysis of something inexplicable and imaginary. The logical and thorough way they deal with the discovery that the house is one quarter inch (then 5/16 of an inch) longer on the inside than the outside is so perfect. It never once feels contrived. It is even more unsettling because nobody wigs out or just starts reacting right away. They assume, as anyone would, that the problem is them. I find this really engaging, and even just 50 pages in, I've started to hate the boring intrusions where the tattoo shop guy talks about drinking and fucking and being weirded out by smells. I don't find the voice authentic at all, and I've started skimming.

As for the blue text for the word house, I've been thinking about this as I read. It's an interesting device actually, because it constantly reminds you of the house in a way that's different from just mentioning it all the time. I liked the idea of people finishing the book and still seeing the word house with a sort of blue afterglow, like lexical eye fatigue.

Friday, September 23, 2011

House of Leaves.

So, a while back, I remember reading someone who was posting about Infinite Jest as they read through, half to encourage themselves not to abandon reading it (as they had before, and as everyone does I imagine) and half to try and make sense of it. Writing things down is often much more linear than thinking them. In your head you can go around and around, and when you write things down, you can progress. At least, this has been my experience.

So, I'm going to write about House of Leaves while I read it. I've known about it for a long time now, my friend Randy was the first person to recommend it to me. But lots of people have told me about it since then. And I think now is the time.

So, here's what I know about the book so far, prior to reading it.

- I know that there's a lot of trickery going on, and have heard that at times the book convinces you that as a reader you are in danger. I find this a very interesting idea!

- I know that in the book, the word House is always in blue. I have the "remastered full-color edition" and it seems ridiculous to me to go to so much trouble just to make one word blue - and always the same word. But, I have not read the book, and my mind is open to the possibility that this will be meaningful and effective.

- I know that the house changes shape, with hallways and rooms moving. To be honest, this is the biggest reason I finally decided to sit down and give this book a go. I love this sort of funhouse of horrors idea, like that serial killer at the Chicago World Fair, who had a house with corridors that shrunk down to nothing, and trapdoors hidden all around.

- I also know (and really like) that in the index the word house and haus are blue, but also, there is an entry for house (black) with the page DNE (which I assume means does not exist.) I am a sucker for fun indexes.

Anyway, we'll see. I bought it in paperback because buying the ebook version seemed foolish, though for all I know they went to incredible lengths to match the typographical trickery. But, in my experience with ebooks, they most likely didn't. Let me know if I'm wrong, but in the meantime I'll be reading hardcopy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fixing my own mistakes: Bible Camp Bloodbath (2010)

The movie Martyrs has made me question a few things about my own book, Bible Camp Bloodbath. I think Martyrs was smart, and even admirable in its clarity of vision, but it was so hopeless. It really didn't leave anything for the reader to hold on to. In my review of Martyrs I talk about this in more detail, but the point is that I didn't enjoy it. I appreciated its skill, but I won't ever sit down and watch it again, no matter how effective and focused it was.

When I wrote Bible Camp Bloodbath I think I had that same obsessive focus of vision in mind as a goal. I wanted to write a book that was the kind of slasher movie people were afraid to make, a movie where the children died, where a psychotic killer didn't get stopped at the end. He just runs out of people to kill.

And I had a good time writing the book. There was a perverse kind of fun to the murders, and a humour that I thought kept the book from being entirely hopeless. But now I think maybe that humour stopped being enough in the last chapters. The book became a single minded machine for killing every single child as horrifically as possible. The characters didn't have any agency in those final chapters, they could only react to this monster pursuing them. They could only think sad, hopeless things to themselves as they died. The murders took on the structure of jokes, with setups and inevitable punchlines.

And even writing this down, that sounds like something good to me. It sounds pure in a strange way, and conceptually clean. But I am not sure that I write books so that they can be this pure and clean. I want people to read them and to love them, and people don't fall in love with jokes. Actually, I can't speak for people in general. I don't fall in love with jokes. I enjoy them, and I will laugh at a joke, but a book like a joke will never be my favourite book. I fall in love with characters and imagination.

I want to write books that are filled with those things, and with hope, even if it is just the promise of hope. There are movies I love that have hopeless endings. Pan's Labyrinth. The Mist. But they have the promise of hope in them, too. Their characters fight to survive, and to escape. Rereading Bible Camp Bloodbath after watching Martyrs, it reads to me like a shooting gallery. There are characters and scenes that I think are great, that I am proud of, and that I think deserve a better book. Characters that deserve a book that I myself would love.

So I am going to make it into that book. You don't hear about writers rewriting their own books very often, but who cares? The original version will still exist, and will still be around for people who do appreciate that hopelessness and focus of vision. But I think I made a mistake, and so I am going to go back and fix it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are strong women allowed to wear panties? Alien (1979)

Alien is a classic. It is claustrophobic and excruciatingly well paced. This is a movie that has stood the test of time. And in some ways it is a very feminist movie. It has a strong and imperfect hero in Ellen Ripley. Even better - she's not defined by motherhood or a romantic relationship. But she's also significantly de-feminized. She's just one of the guys. 

Ellen Ripley is strong and competent. She acts to improve her own chances of survival while many of the supporting characters simply react. But to play a normally male role, it seems like Ripley has to be less of a woman. No makeup. No hint of a woman's body underneath that jumpsuit. 

And on one level, I appreciate this blending of gender roles. I am drawn to her as a character because of this appealing mix of androgyny and competence. But I worry that the intention behind these characteristics might not be in line with why I like them. Do the creators think she has to be masculine in order to be competent? Is this the only way the movie-going public will believe a woman can kick an alien's ass? But then again, women like this really exist. Masculine women and feminine men from all along the spectrum are very real, and often underrepresented in film. 

And then, to make the question even more confusing, they put Ripley in the skimpiest panties I've ever seen for the climactic showdown. It strikes me every time as an insane and jarring choice that seems to be a calculated attempt to up the sex appeal of a movie that didn't want or need it. A woman in panties is certainly not uncommon in the horror genre. But then again, maybe it also feminizes her. Very suddenly and VERY clearly we can see that she is a woman. And, in this new form, she carries on being strong and decisive. 

So is this a scene put in to add sex appeal, or does it more fully flesh out a strong female character to allow us to see that femininity need not be distinct from strength? Or is it both? Maybe I am being weirdly prudish by dismissing calculated sex appeal as un-feminist. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clarity of vision: Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs is very nearly a perfect movie, but I'm not sure it is a movie I'm glad to have seen. The first half of it is violent and twisting and a lot of grisly fun. There's even a strange bloody ghost that is used so sparingly that you sometimes forget about it before it shows up again. That's a neat trick, and for the first half of Martyrs, I loved it. It was gross, but so clever and sharp, too. But then it twists again, and becomes something a little more single minded.

And, let's be clear, I think this is a very smart movie. I think the idea behind the last half of the movie is interesting, and the film's sudden dedication to demonstrating that idea is wholehearted and strangely admirable. But at the halfway point, this movie starts taking away hope. Not just from the main character, but from the viewer as well. There is a solid half an hour of the main character being tortured and beaten. It is horrible but it is also repetitive. It goes on and on so long that it numbs you to the violence. You get to the point where you are simply enduring it, even though you know that there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the main character. There's no way she'll live. You are enduring it the same way she is. The viewer's instinct to watch to the end of the movie is the same as her instinct to live, even though both she and I would have suffered less if I just turned it off right there.

By the last ten minutes of the film, I didn't want to be watching anymore. There was no way out, and it had been made very clear that the only possibility was more torture. More torture and hopelessness.

And I know this was on purpose, and it was done so very well, but jesus fuck. This movie just emptied me out. It messed me up for days afterward. It was ugly and empty and so effective. And yes, I think it might be brilliant. I wish I hadn't watched it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Horror Movie Recommendations: Part 1/3 (The Important movies.)

These are movies that I think everyone has to see. Most of these are on every best horror movie list, and I think maybe because they're so omnipresent and old, it's easy for people to ignore them. A lot of movies on those "best horror movie" lists are boring as hell. These might not be the best horror movies ever made, but they are an important part of what *I* love about horror, and I think the horror genre would be much lesser without them. A lot has been written about these movies already, so I will try to focus on how they affected me personally.

(click to buy)

1. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) This is one of my favourite films. I wrote an essay about it earlier this year, but here I will simply say that it is one of the most visually imaginative and creepy movies of the eighties. Despite the 80s cheese, it has some amazingly creepy scenes that still stick with me. A scene where there's a lamb braying in a hallway for no reason, with a wail like a baby. And a scene where a girl is in a clear body bag, opening and closing her mouth like a fish. This is a movie that takes nightmares seriously and understands what makes them scary.

(click to buy)

2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)  The original TCM is not a perfect movie by any means, but it is devastating. There's a briefness to the violence that makes me more sick to my stomach than any of the extended torture scenes in the remake could. Someone will be alive, walking, talking, and then BAM. He's not a person anymore. He's a convulsing, twitching piece of meat. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has other amazing parts too, the weird animal confusion and frustration of Leatherface when he first finds someone in his house for instance. But first and foremost this is a movie where the horror comes from realizing that you are just meat.

(click to buy)

3. The Exorcist  (1973) I didn't see the Exorcist until I was in my early twenties. I had seen parodies on the Simpsons and a dozen other places, and I didn't think I was missing much. This was a movie people had found frightening in the seventies. There was no way it could compare to modern horror movies, I thought. When I did see it, finally, it blew my mind. It seemed dangerous and over the line, and I honestly couldn't believe that a major studio had made the film. The acting is great and the special effects are mostly great too. But the defilement of the little girl in this movie is truly shocking. Her head twisting around is funny on the Simpsons, but visceral on the screen. And the Simpsons never once had anyone stabbing themselves bloody in the vagina with a crucifix and then smearing their own mother's face in the blood.

(click to buy)

4. The Others (2001) The Others is another movie I recently posted about. It is perfect in almost every way, and builds atmosphere and tension as much through character as through setting and circumstance. It is creepy as fuck, and has a twist at the end that not only makes perfect sense, but which only makes the movie more interesting and satisfying to watch. I watch this movie at least once a year. It is a haunted house movie that understands why haunted house movies are scary. And it understands that sadness can be so much more chilling than gore.

(click to buy)

5. Slither (2006) Slither is a strange, strange movie. I was tempted to save this for the next section of recommendations (Interesting, rather than Important) but Slither is important to me, if not necessarily to Horror as a genre. Slither is about an invasion of slug creatures that take over people's brains, and it does everything just a little bit differently. The characters are well developed and compelling, especially the first victim of the slugs - the main character's rich, controlling husband. He's painted as a jerk right away, but then the film undercuts this at almost every turn, showing us moments of caring and compassion. On characterization and hilarious dialogue alone, Slither would be one of my favourite horror movies, but it is also constantly one-upping itself with disgusting biological nonsense and some unsettlingly dark humour. It has a great B-Movie mentality about the creatures and the gore, especially when people start getting pregnant.

(click to buy)

6. The Evil Dead (1981)  Evil Dead was the first horror movie I ever LOVED. Right down to the weird sound design, I think this movie is great. It doesn't get as much respect as its sequel/sort-of-remake, Evil Dead II but I enjoy it much more. Evil Dead II is a comedy. It sets out to be campy right from the start, but the original Evil Dead is genuinely trying to be scary. It often fails and is often unintentionally hilarious (or, as with the tree rape scene, offensive) but there are some great scares in Evil Dead. The woman in the cellar, and the possessed friend who just sits there giggling are great. Because why wouldn't evil taunt and tease you before killing you? Why wouldn't it try to drive you mad?

Part 2 of this recommendation list will be "Interesting" movies, movies that aren't exactly successful, but which try something original or different and are definitely worth watching.

Part 3 of the recommendations will be "Fun" movies. Horror movies that are just great gory ridiculous fun. Maybe not so scary, but definitely awesome.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is there a place for friendship in horror movies? (The Exorcist III)

There's a scene in the Exorcist III where Father Dyer and Detective Kinderman are out at the movies to watch It's a Wonderful Life. It's a movie they've both seen dozens of times, but they keep going. After the movie they're standing in the lobby, and Detective Kinderman says,

"Well, I suppose you have all sorts of rosary biz, and the like."

"Nope," Father Dyer says, "Loose as a goose. Maybe you should go home and get some rest."

"I can't go home yet," Kinderman says. 


"The carp."

"You know, I thought you said..." 

Then Kinderman puts his hand on his friend's shoulder, his face deadly serious.

"My wife's mother is visiting, father," he says. "And tuesday night she's cooking us a carp. It's a tasty fish - I have nothing against it. But because it's supposedly filled with impurities, she buys it live. And for three days it's been swimming up and down in my bathtub." He pauses, and Father Dyer is trying to keep from laughing. "Up. And down," Kinderman says, "and I hate it."

The best parts of the Exorcist III are these quiet conversations between Father Dyer and Detective Kinderman. There's so much care put into these scenes, so much understanding of the tangential affection of friendships. They talk about murders and movies and fish and Women's Wear Daily, and every single conversation seems to be an expression of their friendship. You see it in the way they smile at one another's jokes even though they've clearly heard the same joke a dozen times before. I didn't expect this kind of warm banter in a sequel to the Exorcist.

The horror in the movie ranges from the cheesy to the brilliantly surreal. The movie is all over the place, and you can clearly tell where the studio tried to force the director to change the movie so it was more like the original Exorcist. But it wasn't the demon howling serial killer scenes that were the most effective. It was the scene where you realize that Father Dyer has been killed. And it was the scenes following this, where you see Detective Kinderman's pain at losing his friend. 

This is a movie I watch again and again, though I often turn it off before the end. It is one of the best movie friendships I've ever seen, and I wish more horror movies had this kind of understanding of relationships. It's not as easy to come up with characters who work well together as it is to come up with grisly ways to kill them off, but it sure does make a difference when they do. Characters that we care about, and who care about one another can make horror so much more harrowing. I've been trying to think of other horror movies with relationships that have made an impression on me the way this one has.

The two that come to mind are Let the Right One In, and Red Dragon. Let the Right One In is built entirely on the relationship between the two children. Their friendship is largely unspoken and yet it's the heart of the movie. The same is true of Red Dragon, a movie I think has been underrated. Anthony Hopkins is entertaining as Hannibal Lecter, sure, but it is the unexpectedly beautiful relationship between serial killer Ralph Fiennes and his blind girlfriend Emily Watson that provides the emotional impact of the movie. It made Fiennes so much more full and exciting as a villain than the cartoonish Buffalo Bill from the original Silence of the Lambs. 

Villains are scarier if we understand them more.