Friday, 2 November 2012

What I Watched Over Summer

It's been a long time since I updated on my horror activities: I have been writing my Master's dissertation and completed it around a month ago. Unfortunately writing about Queen Anne didn't leave a lot of space in my brain for horror - and it says something when even trashy horror films require too much brain energy. I resorted to watching old episodes of CSI when I needed a brain-break. In the interests of keeping things up to date regarding how I've been getting along with the list, here are some films I've managed to watch over summer but never got around to writing about here:

Peeping Tom

I've always had Peeping Tom mixed up with Hitchcock's films in my head, although as far as I'm aware there is no actual link between Hitchcock and this 1960 film (Wikipedia has a couple of paragraphs about potential connections between them, however - thanks, Wiki, for doing my work for me!)

I greatly enjoyed watching Peeping Tom. The main character carries the film and is incredibly compelling. There's a deep psychological layer to his characterisation, drawing upon childhood trauma to explain his development. The constant presence of film in his life, both as a child and later in his violent adult life, lead to a sense of unease in the viewer: by watching the film itself you find yourself implicated in the very method of his insanity. It was a great, unique film, and highly disturbing.


Prom Night (Remake)

Oh, the things I will watch for Dana Davis...
During my challenge, I have been trying to stick to originals rather than remakes as a general rule - but I'd been told that the original Prom Night was fairly sub-standard anyway, and the remake had my darling Dana Davis in it. I've been a little bit in love with her since her turn as Monica on Heroes, as short-lived as that was. The film was resoundingly terrible, but it was worth watching just for her - and for Idris Elba, who turned up unexpectedly as a grizzled police detective (who, charmingly, seemed just like Luther from Elba's BBC series, which made the film actually seem like an unintentional cross-over with the show).

The issue I had with this film was a lot to do with the villain (and the plot, and the acting, and writing, and...) They made the choice, unusual for a slasher flick, to have the killer's identity, motivation and face known from the very beginning. No Halloween masks for this guy. Unfortunately, that completely ruins the slasher effect for me. A lot of the thrill of slashers seems to come from the element of the unknown or mystery hanging over the killer - I'm thinking especially of films like the first Friday the Thirteenth, or the Scream trilogy. Knowing that the killer is just a slim, deranged high school teacher really lessens the fear of the Unknown that usually accompanies this kind of film. Even as a generic slasher flick, the Prom Night remake really doesn't work.


Resident Evil

I had never watched the Resident Evil films and I had the first one on my list, so when a friend and I were looking for something mindless and a bit violent it seemed like a good idea. It was an unexpectedly enjoyable romp, while I had been expecting something a lot worse than it actually was. The action scenes are fun, the Red Queen is creepy and, of course, Milla Jovovich is stunning. We ended up watching the first three films (and then my friend went ahead and watched the fourth without me!) so I'm looking forward to getting to see the new one now that it's out. It looks as if I caught up just in time. I'm aware that the films are based off a series of games, but having never been a gamer I'm perfectly content experiencing the Resident Evil world through the films alone. It's not stunningly original, but it's fun at least, and I always appreciate an action series with a kick-ass female lead.


Friday the Thirteenth II and Nightmare on Elm Street II

My rule for the last list of films I was to watch was that I would watch the first in each of the major slasher movies; for the second list of films, I decided I would watch the second film from each of the three major franchises. I was also rather excited about this because I had been informed ahead of time that Nightmare on Elm Street II was possibly the gayest film ever made. Considering that the entire film comes across as a thinly veiled story about teenage sexuality and self-discovery - not to mention the fear involved with coming out to yourself - I can definitely see where that statement is coming from! And that's not even to mention the naked whipping scene...

Both sequels are utterly ridiculous and are a big step down from the originals (and, to be honest, there wasn't a whole lot to step down from) but I enjoyed them nonetheless. They're the very definition of mindless, and NOES2 definitely slotted right into my 'so bad it's good' brand of enjoyment.


Tuesday, 31 July 2012

2.15 - Near Dark

Near Dark is the Twilight of the 1980s, a love story about a vampire and a human that fall in love – and in which the vampire turns the human into another vampire, before her vampire family abducts him and tries to force him into killing and drinking from people. I’m pretty sure that’s how the plot of Twilight goes.

Evil cult family? Accurate.
This film was made in 1987 by the director Katherine Bigelow, who is currently most well-known for her award-winning The Hurt Locker, starring the gorgeous Jeremy Renner. Near Dark has to make do with Adrian Pasdar, who Heroes viewers will recognise as flying senator Nathan Petrelli. Near Dark therefore runs the risk of giving old Heroes fans traumatic flashbacks to the heart-breaking experience of watching a television show with potential driving head-first through several walls.

I just really needed an excuse to post this Renner pic.

It took me a long time to make it through this film. Several nights in fact. I kept setting down to watch it, getting through about ten minutes, and then finding my attention wandering to do something else. It’s definitely a slow burner. Adrian Pasdar, for all his future smokeiness, isn’t quite charismatic enough to instantly grab my attention.

More Renner required. Always.
As I’m comparing it to Twilight, I do find it interesting that the gender of the vampire/human scenario is reversed in this film. The vampire is a woman while the human victim is a man. Most interestingly, the vampire does not fall into any of the typical “evil sexy seductress” model that writers seem so fond of subjecting female villains into. Part of this is of course just a consequence of Mae not being a villain as such. She’s redeemable, and a lot of the film is about Adrian Pasdar trying to reach out and rescue her at the same time as rescuing himself.

She didn't save him from a runaway truck, though.
What I definitely enjoyed about the vampires in Near Dark was that they were basically just humans with a thirst for blood. Yes, they were strong and fast and all the rest of it, but unlike vampires in a lot of other mythology there as nothing about vampirism itself that made them evil. It wasn’t a demon possessing your body. You didn’t lose control of your moral choices. The vampires in this film consciously made a choice to drink from human and to terrify and degrade them in such a horrifying way, just as Adrian Pasdar was being asked to do. These were vampires, but they were also humans: insane, murderin’ humans. It was an aspect to vampirism that I hadn’t really seen addressed too often in past media, so I would offer this film a heart thumbs up on that front.

Despite having super-cool vampires in that regard, I have to confess that this film didn’t really tickle me in many other ways that than. The plot seemed rather disconnected, as if no one cared too much about what was going on. Perhaps that is just a side-effect of my piece-meal watching situation, or maybe it’s a result of the kind of dodgy acting that was going on. Either way, it seemed to me as if none of the characters, even the  supposedly panicking Pasdar, really cared all that much about what was going on, about the people that were murdered, about whether or not any of them lived or died. If the characters can’t convey how important it is to them, it becomes difficult for me as a viewer to care all that much either.

Awesome styling.
Watching the film, I could just guess that Bill Paxton’s character was probably a cult favourite. Strange, arrogant and evil, he seemed the kind of character that was designed to please a lot of fanboys and fangirls – and, of course, despite being a relatively minor character he was all over the poster for the film. I didn’t recognise the actor playing him (and, in fact, I spent a great deal of the film assuming that he was Christian Slater) but he did a really good job with the character. I would have happily spent the whole film watching him menacing Pasdar (or perhaps menacing someone with some more acting skillz – maybe even Pasdar of the future?)

The film appears to have been fairly low budget, as these things go, so I feel a little bit mean deriding it so much. It’s earned a position as a cult classic among vampire films, but I have to say that it didn’t entertain me too much. My low rating reflects my enjoyment of the film rather than any objective declaration about the film’s quality or importance.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

2.14 - Martyrs

I actually watched Martyrs a few months ago now and have been putting off writing a post about it because it is very, very difficult to work out what on Earth to say on the topic - particularly since everything worth being said has already been said, since it seems that every single horror blogger around has watched this film and had Opinions on it. Martyrs had been recommended to me by several fellow horror fans, usually accompanied by an evil cackle. Evil cackles make me nervous, but intrigued.

The plot of Martyrs revolves around a mysteriously evil cult that, in the beginning of the film, we learn likes to torture children for some reason, but it is throughout the film that we learn more about their background and purpose, such as it is. The film can be split into two sections, the first half focusing upon the attempted revenge by the child shown in the beginning now all grown up, and the second half focusing upon the treatment of her friend after she is similarly captured.

I was of course very surprised to learn that the film was not about  ye olde saints.
The revenge portion of the film is far more recognisable than the second half, and I would argue that it's a lot more effective as well. There are some creepy elements introduced regarding the unreliability of our narrator and whether or not her bloody revenge is even being enacted on the right people. Halfway through the film, however, the narrative switches to something that is admittedly more original - although I think I would argue against this being a good thing.

Also, my shallow side thinks that there should have been a lot more of this lovely lady in the film.

Our protagonist, Anna, is kidnapped by the cult that want to torture her into becoming a ~martyr~ - which apparently means a witness of the afterlife. I found that the film lost the bulk of its tension after this point. The tension that came with watching her friend battle her demons turned into confusion when Anna was initially kidnapped and left bound in a hallway. Once we got into the actual torture scenes, however, there was nothing of interest - perhaps curiosity over what the cult was up to, but even that wasn't particularly strong.

When the reveal finally came, after we had watched poor Anna being beaten up and fed gruel for what felt like forever, it left me fairly unimpressed. The cult is a group of people who were trying to torture Anna to the point that she could glimpse what came beyond and report back to them before she died. The rest of the film doesn't help to support this revelation: nothing supernatural or religious is there to help us believe that this would be possible. This would be less of a problem if the film chose to depict the cult as wrong - but, instead, it seems to go the route of showing their methods as ultimately successful, when Anna does indeed receive a vision after being skinned alive (obviously.)

They were nice enough to leave her the face, though.
If the torture is successful, then the cult is right. For them to be right in this requires far more of a build-up - while the ending is intriguing, as the cult's leader is left to suffer with the knowledge that Anna has imparted, I think that ultimately the film hasn't done the groundwork to make it acceptable for this film. It's like throwing in a dragon at the end of a srs WWII film, just because it looks flashy. You can't mix your genres quite so freely, and the fear of a cult like that should surely come from the vague possibility that they might exist. I would have been far more likely to accept the reality of a crazy cult with demonstrably wrong views than to accept one that is actually in the right. Who knows, maybe the Scientologists really know what they're talking about too.

Overly long and overly dull.
Of course, that's just one of the problems with Martyrs, and I think it's one of many. Unrealistic villains, confusing backstories, unexplained genre-mixing, unsustainable hype. Martyrs isn't a bad film as such, but for me it in no way lived up to the hype surrounding it. I didn't find it particularly scary, or terrifying, or clever - just baffling, both in what was happening on screen and how precisely it managed to gain such a highly-praised reputation.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

2.13 - Jaws

I had never watched Jaws before, although I always felt as if I had. The soundtrack is embedded into our cultural subconscious and I've seen so many clips from it over the years that I could more or less piece together how the film went: big ass shark, bigger boat requirement, big boom at the end.

Pictures in this post are just going to be of my favourite type of shark.

When I was a kid I went through a shark-obsessed phase, because sharks are awesome. It has always struck me as somewhat surprising that I never sat down and watched this film: perhaps I was a little too young and my parents were a little too wise. Then again, if anyone ever wanted to shock me out of my shark phrase, showing me Jaws might have done it. The shark isn't the good guy.

While the plot of the film certainly does boil down to a simple shark-hunt (as simple as hunting for a man-eating shark can be) there is nonetheless a lot of other character-fuelled action going on around this central event. We have the small-town politics surrounding the quiet debate over whether or not to close off the beaches and allow the fears of the shark to be known; there is also an element of class conflict once we get onto the shark-huntin' boat itself and find a grizzled ex-soldier, a shark-focused academic, and a stressed-out sheriff interacting into the night.

Look how sleek and little it is.

Old hunting methods meet new ones as Quint (said grizzled soldier)and Hooper (an academic from the Oceanographic Institute) have to combine their shark-hunting powers in order to land the big one. Ultimately, however, the film is aware that no one is really watching it in order to watch Quint coming to terms with his past or Brody (the sheriff) accepting the responsibility that comes with being sheriff at such a critical time. We're here for the shark.

Sharks are fascinating creatures, and the great white in Jaws is a big fascinating creature. What I loved in this film were the fleeting shots of real shark footage scattered throughout the piece - far scarier than the model shark called "Bruce" who generally looks pretty silly when he is shown on screen. Actual sharks are scarier than any models. It's a good thing that they very rarely attack humans.

Sharks are really more interesting in posing for cameras than in eating people.
I enjoyed great white sharks during my shark phase, but they were never my favourite. There's something about the sleek smallness of a blue shark that I prefer, although considering that they mostly just eat fish that wouldn't have been a particularly interesting film. I would also totally have been on board with a giant hammer-head being the killer shark in Jaws, because they are the dorkiest looking things that is. They are the nerds of the shark kingdom. (The great white is the jock and the tiger shark is the head cheerleader.)

I imagine that hammerheads go around always a little bit confused and out of it.
Shark films have become a genre all to themselves, half-way between horror and action flick. Perhaps the genre should be expanded from simply 'shark film' to 'creature film', since there are also such wonders as anacondas, piranhas and crocodiles to look out for, not to mention sharktopuses. It's a sub-genre that I do actually like, since the one thing that is truly terrifying about our safe, technological world is knowing that if nature decided to turn against us it would very easily take us down.

Are you prepared for the sharktopus apocalypse?


Sunday, 13 May 2012

2.12 - Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer

One of the difficulties with horror movies can be the shallowness of the villains. Jason and Michael may have been given back-stories, but they are hardly charismatic or deep characters. They are walking kill-bots, slicing their way through teenagers without showing much motivation or reaction other than a trudging, unending need for further blood.

In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this shallowness is absolutely stripped away. Henry, of course, is not a 'slasher'. This is not a film targeted at the same teenage, thrill-seeking audience as the Friday the 13th franchise or its like, so it's ridiculous to compare the two (yeah, Shona, how dare you...) Instead, this film presents a claustrophobic examination of a "real" serial killer as he lives his life. He has a house-mate whose attractive young sister has come to stay with them, which both intrigues and alarms Henry, and the film closely follows Henry as he deals with new developments in his life.

He does not deal well with change.
This is a film that claims to be based off of a "true" story (which proves that this is not a technique exclusive to the post-Blair Witch generation). This claim has shaky legitimacy. The events in the film are based off of the crimes that serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to - but he confessed to pretty much any crime that he was asked about, and most of his claims were later found out to be false. The truthiness of the film is therefore extremely fuzzy: it's no documentary. After watching the film, you'll be left saying 'thank god for that'.

I thought Henry looked disturbingly like Heath Ledger throughout.
The film is unrelenting and horrific. While other films in the genre show violence and gore in a way that is designed to shock and scare, there is something about the way that it is shown in this film that is unrelenting and truly disturbing. Quite possibly this is a matter of tone. Even in horror films designed to freak you out, there is a purposeful entertainment factor. In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, entertainment would not appear to be a primary motivating factor to the production.

Two monsters hangin' out.
There's nowhere in which this is more evident than the graphic rape scenes within the film. In one of these scenes there is extra added incest, and another there is implied necrophilia, just in case the rape alone wasn't quite horrifying enough for you. Oddly enough, despite his need for violence, it isn't Henry that is the perpetrator of the rapes in the film (although, he does murder a prostitute after she starts struggling against him for being 'too rough'). It's as if the film is trying to draw a line under how far Henry will go; or, perhaps, to make the statement that there are many different kinds of monsters in the world. Understanding one kind of monster doesn't mean that you'll understand the next.

Nobody understands decapitation.
And, of course, the way that the film seems to make us side with Henry by portraying Otis as worse than him makes the ultimate ending of the film all the more jarring and horrific. The film is incredibly understated regarding the fate of Becky, Otis's sister who seems to share a connection with Henry - but I think every single viewer of the film can work out exactly what was in that suitcase that Henry dumped by the side of the road.

This is an utterly horrifying film, and fabulously well-done. I would never want to rewatch it, but I still think it was brilliant.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Cabin in the Woods

Upon seeing this film, my friend Megan immediately recommended it to me. I tend to trust her taste, even if she is insane and isn't a fan of my darling Steve Rogers. Regardless of any additional recommendations, Cabin in the Woods is a horror film made by Joss Whedon, the king of geeks. I would happily park my ass in the cinema to watch anything Whedon-related.

This is a metaphor for my love for Whedon.
There has been an extraordinary level of buzz regarding Cabin in the Woods in the horror community. I've seen a lot of reviewers referring to it as a 'game-changer', although I'm never quite sure what this means. I would hope that it suggests a move towards horror films becoming a more mainstream genre, and interesting and inventive directors continuing to get in on the horror action. Rather than spewing out an endless line of sequels and series, I would love to see more stand-alone films being produced.

I would also love to see more film featuring this beautiful, beaten up face.
Whedon is of course no stranger to horror. One really only needs to watch an episode of Buffy to realise that he is more than familiar with the genre (Hush, anybody? Or how about we go the Firefly route and look at the Reavers?) and that familiarity and affection comes through thick and strong in Cabin in the Woods. Whedon is familiar with all of the tropes of the genre and is more than happy to play around with them.

A lot of the fun of this film comes with reference-spotting. The Betting Board in the scientists' lab is an absolute delight (and who else is sorely disappointed that "Dragonbat" didn't get selected?) and the giant rampage of monsters in the finale is so much fun to watch. It's like a romp through all of the various films we know and love - we have creepy little girls singing creepy little songs, we have zombies, we have aliens, we have Hellraiser.

The actors all do a fabulous job as well. Whedon has of course taken the opportunity to cast some of his favourite collection of actors, so we get to welcome happily familiar faces like Amy Acker and Fran Kranz. Fran is of course hilarious, and I really hope that he gets a lot more roles in cinema because he's absolutely brilliant. Chris Hemsworth does a great job as the clever student reduced to a mindless jock; I am biased on this topic because I love his face and his arms and think that he should be in all the things. Kristen Connolly also really manages to carry the film, playing the part of the "final girl" nicely.

He should be in all the things.
 I really liked the way that the script places the audience in the position of those down below, the higher beings demanding this blood and suffering. It's the kind of moralising that actually annoyed the hell out of me in films like Funny Games, where it comes across as accusatory and judgemental. The tone is very different in Cabin in the Woods, partly because Whedon's affection for the genre comes across loud and clear. Rather than pointing a finger and implying that it's shameful for the audience to want to watch the film, this film seems to nudge us in the ribs and laugh along with us as it highlights all of the ridiculous tropes and cliches that come along with the genre.

I really, really enjoyed this film, although I did feel that the finale perhaps wasn't quite as strong as the rest of the film that led up to it. I have no judgement on whether or not this film is really a "game-changer" as far as the horror genre is concerned - but if it is, I think I'll like the new, changed game a great deal indeed.


But, to be honest, most of this review is just an excuse to post pictures of the lovely, lovely Chris Hemsworth. Male objectification ahoy: 

Thank you and good night.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

2.11 - Eyes Without A Face

I initially knew very little about this film, other than that it had an absolutely glorious title. Said title resulted in me and my sister singing it and dancing merrily around my flat. I have zero regrets. A little casual imdbing of the film revealed that it was a French film from 1959 that involved a teenage girl getting kidnapped. That was all the information that I had when we started watching.

I guess it also involved some eyes without a face or something?
The film is about a whole lot more than a kidnapping. The plot is complex, but revolves around a girl who has lost her face in a terrible road accident - we only briefly glimpse what has happened to her face, and the rest of the time she wears a frozen, porcelain mask. Her single father has faked her death and has now resorted to kidnapped random girls and attempting to surgically transplant their faces onto his daughter. He is a renowned surgeon, but his inability to successfully perform the operation leads to a string of deaths and a police investigation.

Oh, your mask frightens me too, Christaine.
The film is weird as hell. There's a brilliantly detached quality to it all that leads you never quite sure of what anyone's motivations are. Everyone's cards are played so close to their chest that you are left unsure who to sympathise with - the film especially plays on this in the beginning, before the reveal of what Christiane's father is up to. He appears to be a father who is worried sick about his missing daughter, just like everybody else.

With it being shot in black and white and having the air of a film that was actually a lot older than it is, the fairly graphical surgical scene that appears half-way through was very shocking. Eyes Without A Face isn't an especially gory film, especially not when you compare it to the blood-drenched gore-fests of modern cinema, but I would struggle to find anything more disturbing than watching a woman having her face dispassionately removed by a surgeon. She is unconscious; she isn't in pain. The camera lingers on the operation from above, watching as every incision is made. I was left waiting for it to cut away, and becoming incredibly disturbed when it simply wouldn't.

Arrrggh, this is not a thing my eyes should see.
I found Christiane's character in the film to be especially interesting. Despite being the woman with the titular 'eyes without a face', it is difficult to get a hold on her as a character or to work out what her motivations are intended to be. There is a particularly striking scene in the film in which Christiane approaches one of the kidnapped girls, who is confined to the surgical table and is terrified. Christiane is holding a surgical blade and, as a viewer, I was completely uncertain about what she intended to do with it. Was she going to free the girl or was she going to attempt to complete her father's work? I think it's evidence of the ambiguity of her character that either option could appear equally likely.

She likes dogs, so that's a point in her favour.
It's a stunningly effective film, and incredibly eerie at times. I challenge anyone to try to make it through the surgical scenes without cringing away at least once.