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! 

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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.

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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.

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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.