Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I'm always hesitant to be too harsh to creators who have real passion for the genre. Horror needs new blood and if you've got guys like Rob Zombie and Adam Green out there who genuinely love and revere this stuff, you've gotta support them and hope their talent grows. The big problem with fanboy creators, unfortunately, is that the stuff they bring to the table tends not to be anything original but reheated leftovers marketed as "homage" to the genre classics. Horror in general suffers from a strong desire to cannibalize its past rather than look to its future and I think this was one of those things that hamstrung my enjoyment of Hatchet.
Don't get me wrong, I had a very good time watching the movie. It's well-shot, it's got a wacky sense of fun, it's completely over the top, and the acting is really good. But after the movie was over, after the popcorn bowl was empty and my co-reviewer Professor Demon Bunny
was put away for the night, I left the movie with that "I just ate too much fast food" feeling. I'm full, but I'm not really satisfied.
Fanboy films spend way too much time playing to the audience. Characters just about turn to the camera and comment directly on the tropes of the stalk and slash genre. The humor is way too self referential, in a way that breaks my connection with the story. It does no good, for example, to comment on how dumb a certain action is when the characters go and do it anyway. And while I love and admire the work of Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, and all the other chappies they wrangle into these things, their appearance is kinda distracting. I see Tony Todd in his AWESOME cameo as an eccentric voodoo tour guide and I get distracted by salivating fanboy glee.
That sense of self-satisfaction torpedoed one of the other major aspects of the the movie for me, which was that Hatchet wasn't particularly tense-scary. Oh, it's got blood by the buckets, courtesy of effects maestro and Friday the 13th Part VII helmer John Carl Buechler, but we see the monster too often, he's not particularly subtle or mysterious, and it's just a series of jump scares between strings of jokes.
Having said that, one of the things that really worked for me was the cast. I've been known to complain about the slasher movie tendency to make their stock victims complete assholes, but the characters in this movie were all really fun and likable, from the sweet Midwestern couple to the theatrically goofy tour guide. Also, I tend to think it's crass to go on about how attractive a leading lady is but if I went to high school with Tamara Feldman I totally would stutter around her.
In the end, I thought Hatchet was fun in a very superficial way. I don't want to come down too harsh on the movie or on Adam Green. I watch DOZENS of slasher movies a year and most of them are crap. His, at least, was kinda nifty. But I hope that he's got something more inventive and original than "Old School American Horror" up his sleeve. That ground has been trampled on by so many feet it's impossible to distinguish any one individual mark.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I like books about being a writer. It makes me feel like I'm being productive without having to actually undergo the scary process of committing my ideas to paper.
Being the product of many cooks, the advice was sometimes uneven. Treat your stories as a roller coaster ride. Always strive to make your stories as literary and deep as possible. Too much explicit gore is tacky and overwrought. It's the responsibility of horror writers to get wrist deep and rummage in the guts of the world. The hoary old tropes of the genre can still be used effectively with the right imagination and originality. The future of horror fiction is dependant on our willingness to cast aside the monsters that no longer scare people.
It's definitely one of those books where you have to pick and choose the stuff that resonates with you. There's stuff for people who want to write elegant, subtle ghost stories and there is stuff for people who want whirring chainsaws ripping into quivering flesh. It's also a great chance to get a sense of what your favorite writer values and what they bring to the stories they tell.
In addition, the book provides something many writer guides don't have: information toward writing for new media. There's information on writing for comics, video and role playing games, and plays. As horror is such a fringe-y, dangerous genre, it's nice to know that they take consideration for the odd paths scream-scribes might choose to take.
I love horror. My tastes run to the dark side, my passions are far outside of the light, and I want to make my little contribution to the genre. Writing is a weird, solitary battle with yourself with very few guides along the way. I'm happy I have this little tome in my collection. It's something to reference and it's something to keep me motivated. After all, us weirdos have to stick together.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I kinda love this.
I discovered this neat little notion while tooling around bloody-disgusting the other day. Apparently a group of artists and animators are redoing the original NotLD as a fusion animation project, using different artists on different scenes.
NotLD is still one of my favorite zombie movies and I love the idea of a group of talented, creative people riffing on one of the coolest horror movies of all time. The trailer looks beautiful and I'm really looking forward to this one. Check out their website here.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Must not be flip. Must not make some obvious comment about the apocalypse being started by Joe The Plumber.
I didn't have high hopes going into The Beyond. It's a big movie among our people but everything I've heard about it fell along the lines of "The movie doesn't make sense, but the GORE! The goooooorrrreee....." followed by salivation and general unpleasantness on my shoes. I got the sense it was one of those imprint movies people watch during their younger, easily impressed years and its outrageousness leaves a warm place in the viewer's heart regardless of the actual quality of the work.
Turns out I was pleasantly surprised.
Synopsizing The Beyond is kind of pointless. A bunch of stuff happens for no particular reason or explanation, people die horribly graphic deaths, and a couple people wind up staggering around in hell. There are creepy old hotels and swamps and unattended coronor's examination rooms. It felt a little bit like going on a dark ride; there was some vague theme tying the whole thing together, but mostly you puttered along happily while shit jumped out at you. According to the wikipedia entry the formless nature of the story was a tribute to Surrealist Antonin Artaud, who wanted theater to be less about linear narrative and more about 'cruel' imagery used to shock audiences into action. This all sounds a little high falutin' and "let's add meaning after the fact" but there's no denying that The Beyond is genuinely creepy.
Yeah, this flick ain't exactly Robert Wise at his prime, but it's a nifty little popcorn movie. The directing style is all wild zooms and sudden scene cuts, the acting is mostly master-of-unlocking level, and the gore is really outrageous and over the top. You got your eyes popping out, your mannequin faces dissolved in acid, your dogs tearing out blind women's throats, and all the really good, really over-the-top stuff.
Then there's the tarantula scene:
I'm not a huge fan of spiders in general, and the agonizingly slow pace these hairy little fuckers swarmed over that poor bastard's face made my skin. friggin'. crawl.
Which isn't to say that the movie is all ripped latex and bubbling blood. Fulci builds up some genuine, beautifully filmed tension. The scenes involving the strange blind girl Emily and her connection to the Lovecraftian Book of Eibon were chilling. Even after subjecting myself to the gristly delights of The Beyond, my favorite scene is when Emily is surrounded by a circle of the walking dead, begging not to be dragged back to hell. Finally, I like how Fulci chose to end the movie, with the doomed heroes walking blind into the oblivion previously depicted by the murdered painter. Fulci really does have an artist's eye for shot composition and there's a lot of gorgeous stuff in this ghastly playground.
I won't lie, I definitely bring prejudices and expectations to the stuff I see. I really wasn't expecting to like The Beyond, but the over-the-top insanity and strong visual style won me over. This is totally a movie I'd see over pitchers with my lunatickier friends. Fulci does indeed live. Bee eff eff.
Anyway, this is my first post in the Final Girl Film Club. To people who find their way here from her site, welcome! As a greater being than I said, "We have such sights to show you."
Side thing: I don't normally listen to DVD commentaries, but the David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl have a very funny, very British commentary track available on most DVD releases.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Never seen a fan cake before.
I kinda love it. Check it out in greater detail here.
Thanks to reader Julia for sending this my way. If you get a bit of horror burnout wander over to fellow blogger Cake Wrecks for further cake-related madness.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Soooooo the last post I wrote brought to mind one of my favorite little in-joke stories, I Cthulhu by Neil Gaiman. Like The Courtyard, you're probably not going to get into it if you're not familiar with the source material, but it's a funny little autobiography of Lovecraft's most famous creation. You can read the entire thing right here.
If I wanted to be flip, my review of The Courtyard would be "It's Alan Moore. Doing Lovecraft." Then I'd slap you upside the head, make out with your girlfriend, then run off into the endless stygian night. Fortunately, that's not what they pay me the big bucks for, so I'm going to continue. Besides, when I loaned this book to people in my social circle, most of 'em didn't like it. I really did, but I think it's because of my immersion in my source material.
Lovecraft has basically become a sub-genre unto itself. When people think cosmic horror, gigantic squiddy-things, descents into mind-shattering madness, and overwrought prose about clustering gambrel roofs, they think about the gentleman weirdo from Providence. I have a long and convoluted history with Lovecraftiana but that's another article unto itself. Suffice to say, I dig the dude's style and I was really keen to see what comics legend Alan Moore (whose Swamp Thing run will be another article sometime in the future) could do in his playground.
The plot is a routine Lovecraft pastiche: a person investigating unimaginable horror becomes part of said horror. The unfortunate seeker this go-around is Aldo Sax, FBI agent and anomaly theory specialist, who goes undercover in slightly sci-fi New York's underground rawk scene to investigate a series of bizarre murders. Shit happens, vistas of the reality are opened, and Sax ends up doing something terrible. So it goes.
I've read this sort of story before. It's the kind of so-obvious-it's-ugly notion that's dirt common in this genre, but this one was well executed by an expert's hand. I really liked the characterization of Aldo Sax. He's got your typical hard-boiled narrator's voice, but it's tinged with a really nasty edge of elitism, isolation, and racism that makes him pop out more than your standard Philip Marlowe knock-off. The quasi-alternate history New York he inhabits is also a fascinating backdrop, just familiar enough to be comfortable in but with a few touches casually dropped in the narrative to keep the reader off-balance.
The story name drops about a half-million Lovecraft references, from the sinister Club Zothique to the mysterious drug dealer Johnny Carcosa to the drug addled reality-stretching musician Randolph Carter. The underground nightclub Sax visits during his investigation is a really cool creation, painted beautifully in brief descriptive texts that captures the experience really well. Johnny Carcosa in particular is a brilliant creation, an effeminate ageless man whose lemon-yellow veil covers some sort of terrible deformity and whose small frog-like mother is an immigrant from somewhere terrible.
As to the contributors, I really like Jacen Burrow's artwork. He's generally someone I'm kind of hit-or-miss on, but his horror work is richly detailed, has a strong gift for conveying human drama, and knows how to do the terrible subtlety necessary in horror comics. Antony Johnston, who adapted the work from Moore's short story, did a helluva job trimming the tale down to a few choice text blocks and a brilliantly imagined visual style.
Yet when I passed my copy of The Courtyard around at work, most people didn't really like it.
I kinda get why people wouldn't like this book. If you're familiar with Alan Moore's work from the last few years, many of his stories wander into this mythical stream-of-consciousness thing. I don't share his spiritual point-of-view and I may possibly be too stupid to understand what he's talking about half the time, but some of his stuff reads like a man scribbling furiously on the walls of an asylum.
Moore's spiraling language games do something that hasn't really been done successfully (that I've encountered, at least): it gives voice and meaning to the horrible gibberish language that surrounds the Lovecraftian realms of monstrosity. Once we share Aldo's experience with the Aklo language, we get teasing glimpses of the metascience behind Lovecraft's language. Noise becomes concepts, concepts become perceptions, perceptions become actions, all within this strange multi-dimensional verbal construct. It is, bluntly, a trip, but you really have to know what Moore is talking about and how those eeeeevil phrases come into use in the source material. If you don't have it, the book has a weird pointless ending.
Anyway, yeah, if you like your Lovecraft and you want to see how the monsters and madmen think, check The Courtyard out. I dug it quite a bit, and it's going into an honored spot in my collection.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Tales From The Crypt made me terrified of polyamory.
I kid you not. When all my friends in early college got all intellectual and experiment with their relationships, I freaked out. That path leads to betrayal, murder, and some grotesque shambling thing breaking into your house in the last panel. Years later, having dipped my toes into the waters of alternative heterosexual relationships, I'm still waiting for the arsenic in the dark, the grasping hands, the descending axe.
Wow. That was ickily personal. Let's get back on-subject.
I picked up Tales From The Crypt: From Comic Books To Television, the horror documentary from Chip Selby and popped it in the player. I have a lot of fond memories from both the comic book reprints and the TV series, but I haven't really returned to the Crypt in a long time. The TV show, to my memory, was very 90s and the comics are full of such impenetrably purple prose that I have a hard time returning to it.
The documentary was very, very good. Like His Name Was Jason, the filmmakers know enough to stay out of the way of the subject and they do a tremendous job interviewing the people involved with the creation of the original work. We learn the skills different artists bring to the table, from one's ability to draw beautiful scheming women, to another's masterful hand at the shambling, rotting corpse.
Learning more about the creation of the comics inspired me to dig out my copies of the original. I found my stack, popped them open, and drifted off to sleep one dark night reading them. I was treated to vivid dreams where I had a mixed martial arts fight with a headless corpse in my bathroom.
And that's when I remembered the real power TFTC held over me: they scared the fuck out of me as a kid.
The artwork was masterful, completely unrivaled in horror comics today. The stuff they did, with its combination of explicit grue and dread suggestion, fired up my imagination like nothing else. Comic books are fundamentally more interactive than television or movies. In movies, the filmmakers do all the work for you. They show you terrible things and how you react to them is dictated primarily on what throws your switches. With comics and the written word, you dictate the pace that you engage the story and the horrors require more effort and involvement. If, like me, you have a gigantic imagination that is particularly gifted to visualizing the magical, mysterious, and macabre, TFTC is going to eat you alive.
Best of all, TFTC was the master of the awful final image/line. They knew exactly what to linger on and what point to end the story so you had to do all the work. The format doesn't always work perfectly, and the text-heavy wouldn't work too well with modern comic audiences, but the fine people at EC Comics were true genre masters.
One of the things that really got to me in the documentary, aside from the craftsmanship of the stories, was the intense level of persecution that EC Comics and editor-in-chief William Gaines suffered during the anti-comics backlash. The stories were remarkably adult for the time and rather than being encouraged and explored, Gaines was forced to stand before Congress and answer, essentially, why he was choosing to corrupt children. Anti-horror sentiments aren't anything new and every fan has had people ask why they were devoted to such an uncomfortable genre, but the level of moral outrage was amazing and laughable. By and large, I think comic books suck and a big reason is because they were repressed before they had a real chance to grow up.
I'm sure I'll get to talking about individual stories at some point in the future. Suffice to say, go check out the documentary. It'll give you a new appreciation for one of the masterworks of the horror genre. There's also an interview with EC contributor Ray Bradbury, another influential figure in my development, but I fell asleep halfway through that part. Bad me.
Alright, so this trailer is bullshit. But wouldn't it be so coooool if someone actually did it?
I like telling people that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the first haunted house/slasher movie I've ever seen. Willy Wonka is pretty fucking menacing, we never see the kids who disappear into the factory again, and every child still has a touch of trauma from the boating scene.
Images of corrupted childhood always gives root to interesting horror. Enjoy!
Monday, March 16, 2009
First off, I want to apologize to my more book-oriented readers. I know my posts lately have been very movie-oriented. I'm always reading something but it's not always horror. I am a fast reader, but it takes significantly longer to go through a book than watch an movie. More are coming, just be patient.
Anyway, April Fool's Day. I've been wanting to see this one for awhile, given its dubious legacy among my people. Final Girl hearted it, so that's a pretty good recommendation, and I was finally able to sit down with it over the weekend.
My impression? Huh. Okay...
I don't honestly know what my reaction is, being as inundated as I am with other people's opinions. I had a genuinely good time watching it. I thought it was well constructed and fun, The acting and characterization was much richer than your average slasher movie. It lost me a little bit in the middle, but the movie was brief enough to regain the momentum.
It also had a great opening. Interviewing people through the eyes of a camera is an old and stupid narrative trick for my tech-savvy generation, but it worked really well here. The island itself looked great and had a fantastic atmosphere. That bit with the eyes in the painting was really cool. The improbably-named Muffy St. John was kinda hot.
But it was all building up to a surprise ending I already knew.
I love spoilers. I'm generally able to enjoy a work on its own merit, even if I know how it ends. It was nice to know, having found that I liked all these characters, that none of them were actually being harmed. At the same time, I think I can understand the anger of people who were caught unawares. I was always one of those kids who, when watching Scooby Doo, used to hope that they'd pull the werewolf mask and discover an actual monster underneath. What Muffy does to her friends is very fucking weird, but they all seem game (well, most of them. The movie has the sense to infer that a couple guests may have been put off by the whole thing) and it doesn't require a whole lotta cheating to pull off. Still, there was something vaguely off-putting about the whole thing. Maybe it was a sense of missed opportunity, especially in the way Muffy screwed with everyone's personal secrets, or maybe it was the general weirdness of the premise, but there is something off about it that I can't quite put my finger on.
I don't need everything I watch to be grim and grisly, and I do tend to look down at the nimrods who rail against this movie because it's not gruesome enough for their taste. FG is right; horror fans whine about encountering the same old thing over and over again, but they whine when people try something new.
I think I really enjoyed it. I wish I could articulate what threw me about it. I probably shouldn't have known the ending before hand. It was like I wasn't really watching it, but waiting for stuff to happen.
Oh, well. The ending theme song is fucking awesome! It should totally be classic-era Joker music.
20 Too Bad Youre Crazy (Jerry Whitman) - End Credits - Bernstein, Charles
Friday, March 13, 2009
I'm getting a bit burned out on slasher movies lately but I saw this trailer on the His Name Was Jason DVD and I just got a feeling, y'know? At this point, I've inundated myself with so much genre crap that it's permeated my senses and I get gut feelings about this stuff.
My gut reaction has been telling me to give this a shot, so give it a shot I shall. Besides, I'm really curious about the camera-looking thing the killer has strapped to his shoulder. Is he filming this stuff? Is he framing his rampage as some sort of demented movie?
One of the tropes of horror that always fascinated me are the tales centered around the line between story and suffering and the people who can't tell the difference between the two. Horror as a genre is all about exaggerating themes, and the ghastly notion of people doing evil because they see their victims through the prism of fiction strikes me as the sort of idea that hits home for horror fans. I don't need another thinly disguised lecture on the evils of horror cinema, as I am exposed to a ton of this stuff and I came out humane and kind, but elements of something deeper might elevate this above the stalk-and-slash crowd.
Or maybe it won't. Fuck it, just so long as they do it right.
Like every other horror guy, I had a Pavlovian drool response when I heard about Sam Raimi doing something in the genre. So far I've only been able to watch the trailer at work, where sound is not allowed. It looks cool. Something about a bank?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Crap. If I keep this up, this blog is going is going to turn into yet another Friday the 13th site. Okay, after this post there will be a moratorium on slasher-related postings. Besides, I just got Quarantine from my company's nifty free video rental service. I'll try to put together something clever for that. Anyway, this one is on His Name Was Jason, the recently released documentary on the F13 series.
I love horror-themed documentaries. I'm the kind of guy who watches the special features on DVDs, who goes to conventions and asks all the nerdy questions, and who loves to pick apart the stories I love and see what makes them tick. Horror, with all it's wonderful taboo-breaking charm, always has the most fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff going on. Sometimes you pull back the curtain and find the backstage logic distasteful (I'm looking at you, See No Evil), but by and large I really enjoy these glimpses into the construction of the genre.
Anyone who's ever read Peter M. Bracke's Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (and if you're a fan, you really should) will find HNWJ to be similar in form and scope. A bunch of former Jasons and former victims chat about their experiences, their memories, and what being a part of the F13 legacy has meant for them. As you can imagine, the movies are made by a bunch of amateurs, shooting late at night in uncomfortable locations. Tempers flare, mistakes get made, the wrong people get credit for things, and somehow out of all of this chaos a movie gets made.
The whole endeavor is hosted by the ever-charming Tom Savini, who frames the interviews with amusing little skits, chatting with the viewer as some poor girl runs for her life. Each segment is split into general themes, talking about the production, the effects, the character, and the impact on their lives. There's a lot of stuff covered, and nobody ever stays on camera long enough to get boring.
One of the things that struck me was the amount of sympathy the cast had for Jason. When you go back and read interviews with stuntmen who assumed the role early in the series, it's pretty clear that the filmmakers weren't too interested in what makes Jason tick. As the series wore on and Jason became the star of the show, a sort of internal life grew from the character's patchwork origins. Now he's become victim-as-villain, an outsider avenging his mother's death and his social banishment. This aspect of the character is a big part of his appeal, as opposed to the more ethereal and distant Michael Myers.
Anyway, if you're one of those goofballs who would find a two hour long discussion of a B-movie boogeyman interesting, go check this one out. Side note: controversial F13V director Danny Steinmann has some iiiinteresting violence-as-impotency theories going on. Also Kane Hodder, once my childhood icon, is starting to creep me right the fuck out.
Watching Quarantine reminded me of Watchmen villain Adrian Veidt's ultimate solution to the threat of nuclear conflict, how the sacrifice of millions of lives may ultimately save billions. In the morality of the story's world Veidt's actions were probably correct, but it's hard cheese for his victims.
Quarantine is the story told from the point of view of the victims.
In brief, the story is about a group of people trapped in an apartment building when an outbreak of (say it with a straight face) super-rabies begins infecting the tenants. The story is told from the point of view of a news crew who follow the first responders into the building, then struggle to capture the story as the CDC cordons off the building. The enforced isolation, the informational blackout, and the intense suppression by military forces make a straightforward, zombie-esque tale all the more terrifying.
Let's get something out of the way: I haven't seen REC, the Spanish film Quarantine remakes. I know, that makes me a bad horror fan but there are only so many hours in the day. As such I can't write a snotty, pretentious, pajiba-style review comparing the two, with arch comments about people's capacity to read subtitles. They sound really damned similar, the only difference being the Vatican stuff has been replaced by allusions to a doomsday cult terror attack.
Anyway, I really liked this movie. It scared the bejeezus out of me, the whole thing remained punchy and engaging, and it had the integrity to take the grim nature of the story to a fitting conclusion.
POV Horror tends to be good at generating the one strong defining image. In Blair Witch Project it's the often-parodied confession scene, in Cloverfield it's the Statue of Liberty's mauled head clanging toward the viewer. In Quarantine, it's the night vision shot of poor Angela crawling toward the camera, only to be dragged away into the darkness. It's a powerful image, used regularly in posters and trailers, but it also gives away the ending. There are a lot of people in Horrortown who are pissed off by the advertiser's willingness to compromise the story, which I think is a bit silly. The characters in the film KNOW they aren't getting out alive, and that fatalism lends a real horrific tone to the proceedings. You leave the tale knowing it's not safe, the world is not okay, the monsters are still out there, and that they often win. Creepy.
Ultimately, Quarantine is a precisely-designed spectacle. I greatly enjoyed it while I was watching it and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a relentless and uncompromising horror film, but it's not going to go down as one of my favorite genre pieces. The pacing is too quick to allow much characterization, so you're treated to a well-crafted horror show. I really should have seen this in theaters.
Side note: Here's a nifty little video I found of the Knott's Scary Farm's Quarantine Haunted House.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Things I've learned while watching Resident Evil: Degeneration:
- Nothing is more entertaining than an hour and a half video game cutscene.
- You can actually name a South American dictator "General Grande" and people will take it seriously.
- Top police commandos will be selected based on the poutiness of their lips and their ability to stand so they're bathed in light.
- The film makers like to take cool past the point of "cool" and deep into the wild land of the ridiculous. Hot shot special agents all have emo-kid hair, soldiers do crazy hand jives to communicate, and people have to pose before laying waste to armies of zombies.
- Protesters are mindless, uninformed busybodies and should stay out of the way of well-meaning corporate entities, except:
- Pharmaceutical companies do nothing but design monster drugs and create gigantic, self-immolating laboratories. When the monster apocalypse comes, you damn well better believe Johnson & Johnson will play a part in it.
- Everyone's face perfectly matches the role they will play in life, with no imaginative deviation. The obnoxious swine will be fat and jowly, the overconfident lug will be huge and blockheaded, the kid will be made out of porcelain and radiate near-toxic levels of cute, the love interest will be frail and model gorgeous even if they're elite police, and the icy mastermind will be a near albino with a British accent.
- It ain't Resident Evil without some obnoxious kid for the heroes to worry about.
- If you ever want to know who the villain is, look for the dude/dame with the hair curtain:
Hey there, surly teenagers! I've got my eye on you.
- Given a choice between subtlety and exposition, Anime-style storytellers will ALWAYS choose to hit you over the head with the exposition bat. Also, big ups on the melodrama.
- Watching this was like being clubbed in the face with stupid. Still, the zombie shootouts were fun. Eff it. Two stars.
Friday, March 6, 2009
So I'm calling for a change, horror movie makers: let the stoners and the sluts and the drunks live.
The vast majority of final girls are withdrawn, guarded, uncomfortable in their bodies or with their sexuality, and are usually outside their peer group. It is their isolation and their perceptiveness that allows them to put the clues together, to realize that Something Isn't Right, while their friends are lost in booze and sex and debauchery and blah blah blah....
There will always be a fondness in my black little heart for slashers flicks, the dopey embarrassment of the horror scene. Unlike a lot of my fellow horror bloggers, I am not blind to some of the subtext build into the cliches of the genre. Slasher films always had a vaguely puritanical streak, where the good (read: Christianly) young woman is given both perception and strength by her abstinence, while her friends who've succumbed to temptation fail to see the danger they're in.
This isn't actually anything new. All the way back to the atomic horror films of the fifties, back in less graphic times, the rubberized squiddy monster From Beyond The Stars would chance upon Johnny LetterManJacket and Janie AngoraCardigan. The exchange would be something like this:
Johnny: Come on, baby. Let us French.
SFX: Twig snaps.
Janie: Wait, Johnny. Did you hear something?
Johnny: I didn't hear anything.
Resumes groping and/or necking. Janie looks distracted.
Janie: I wanna go home.
Johnny looks exasperated.
Johnny: Babe, there's nothing out here.
Janie: I don't know....
Johnny turns on the charm.
Johnny: You look beautiful tonight.
Janie is smitten.
Janie: Oh, Johnny.
Kissy kissy. The Atomic Monster shows up.
Atomic Monster: Blaugh.
Johnny and Janie: Aaaaaaahhhh!!!
See where I'm going with this? If Janie just trusted her instincts, if she didn't succumb to Johnny's wiles, they wouldn't be Atomic Monster chow. This formula has been repeated, with significantly more boobs, ever since.
(Side note: there's something to be examined as to why men are always portrayed as such base and lowly animals, incapable of perceiving anything around them because they're too busy trolling for sex, but that's a whole different essay.)
Before you jump down my throat, I don't think that slasher flicks are thinly disguised propaganda for conservative Christian ideology. I think someone deliberately included a slightly abstinence oriented message into a movie, the formula worked, and people kept following and adapting it. Slasher movie makers can be accused of a lot of things, but originality is seldom among the charges.
But here's the thing about virgins: they make for pretty boring characters.
People who live with an overabundance of restraint come off as tightly wound and creepy. Some of the more scholarly work on the slasher subgenre posits that this is why the final girl survives; in the end, she's a mirror image of the outsider-killer. Most of the movies I'm talking about don't have that level of depth, and so you're left watching a square.
That might have been fine once upon a time, but it's 2009 now. Even our crappy slasher movies tend to have better acting, better production values, and better writing (stop snickering back there!) So I'm gonna throw something I've always wanted to see in a slasher flick: the character journey.
My favorite example is Freddy vs. Jason. The final girl, Lori, is both uninteresting and kinda fucking weird ("Why yes, I'm leaving high school yet still pine for my long-absent middle school boyfriend.") Her friend Gibb, on the other hand, is a habitual drinker whose self-esteem is ground down into the mud by her alpha-male asshole boyfriend. She has more dimensions, she's less serenely perfect, and she can be saved. Imagine a movie where this already damaged girl endures the fires of evil and becomes stronger for it. Wouldn't that have been fantastic? The movie doesn't give her that chance, which would have made FvJ a whole lot richer and more likable.
Or, more recently, Chewie from the Friday the 13th remake. This one is kind of a harder sell, because it's hard to believe that the good natured Chewie would voluntarily hang out with the idiots he keeps company with, but he's the most likable character in the movie. He's the most free-spirited, has the most engaging sense of humor, and is just awesome. Fuck it, I heart Chewie.
The fake final girl isn't particularly likable, because she (maybe) dates the biggest asshole in the group, while the actual final girl and guy don't really have much characterization. Really, doesn't it make more sense to have the most engaging character be the survivor. Sure, he's not a bulky manly-man, but has that ever really mattered when you're going up against Jason muthafuckin' Voorhees?
I'm really tired of bland, withdrawn, final girls. I related to them more when I was a scared, nervous Catholic-school virgin. I don't relate to those people anymore, and I don't think the average horror fan does, either. If evil truly is pure, then it's arbitrary: it will not let the virginal girls survive with any more frequency than anyone else. People who've lived, people who are a little wild and a little damaged, are more likely to have to tools needed to fight back and triumph.
So, yeah, clemency for the losers. This posts were inspired by the awesome Who Would You Save? posts circling around the webs. Check out final girl's posts here and here.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Some point I should write about illustrious part six. The "funny one" of the franchise, six has both fans and detractors. Generally, humor in horror turns me off, but I thought six was the most entertaining and accessible, with the series' best final girl and the presence of ever-dependable Thom Mathews.
Anyway, I picked this up at Wondercon, San Francisco's premiere pop-culture event. Kane Hodder and Tony Todd were supposed to be there, but they were apparently no-shows. C'est la vie.
Not a whole lot of horror content this year. I did attend the panel of Alien Trespass, a retro-50s atomic horror pastiche. I got a feeling this movie, like Psycho Beach Party, is gonna be more wacky than actually good. Still, I love fifties nostalgia. Check out the trailer here:
Catch y'all on the flip.