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.