Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I haven't had much of a chance to see a horror flick in awhile.
Money has been very tight and nothing super-appealing has come out. I'm not all that into sci-fi/horror hybrids and Splice didn't excite me all that much. As for The Human Centipede, I can't say I'm really excited about it. The only way it's ever been sold to me is that it's about a maniac doctor who sews people's mouths to another person's asshole so the person is forced to ingest the other person's shit for sustenance. That's not a story; that's an idea. And it's a particularly juvenile and scat fetishist idea, too. Horror doesn't necessarily mean gross, but that's apparently a minority opinion.
So, when walking down the streets of my Williamsburg home, I happened upon a movie poster for a film called Cropsey. The poster showed an old abandoned building out in the middle of some dead woods. The sun hits the trees and the collapsing brickwork in a way that turns everything the color of old blood. The tag line reads "The Truth is Terrifying" and a blurb from Roger Ebert calls it a "chilling horror documentary." I was excited. I stole the poster and hung it up in my apartment and I planned to see the movie.
Unfortunately, I live in a perpetual state of Broke so I haven't had the money to see the movie. In the mean time, I joined the NYC Horror meetup group and met other fans at a rooftop party. I mentioned that I was really excited about Cropsey and all the locals started telling their own Cropsey tales, heard at summer camps and slumber parties all along the Eastern seaboard. Apparently, they were the inspiration for the murderer from the 1981 Tom Savini effort The Burning.
Someone else at the party warned me that the movie isn't quite what the trailer makes it out to be. They were right. It wasn't quite the spooooooky monster show the trailer makes it out to be but instead it was an interesting documentary about urban legends, scapegoats, and the secrets of small towns.
Staten Island, as presented in the movie, is presented as both a bucolic little small town just a stone's throw away from the chaos of New York City and as a dumping ground for all the city's dirty little secrets. Most of the urban legend centers around the Willowbrook state school, a horrific sanitarium that was the subject of an expose by Geraldo Rivera in the seventies. After the school closed down, stories began to circulate about a former patient who lived in the maze of the former building and who kidnapped kids off the street.
The legend became much more horrible when kids really start disappearing. After a frantic search involving the entire community, the cops picked up and convicted a sketchy drifter who used to work at the sanitarium and seemed to fit the legend perfectly. Though he was convicted on what amounts to circumstantial evidence and the film portrays him as a little bit of a scapegoat to the city's hysteria (though, to be fair, the dude was very sketchy) his capture only fuels the legend. Pretty soon Staten Island is alive with paranoid talk of Satanic cults and underground societies of former mental patients and dark suspicions of the drifter's motive. It is, in short, pretty much every horror movie you've ever seen.
I really liked the movie. It has it's slow parts and there were times when I was drumming my fingers on my theater seat, but the film makers tell a great tale of a community in panic, of dark secrets and lunacy. Part of me got into the ghoulish aspects of the tale while part of me was genuinely horrified that it all happened.
I'm always a bit conflicted about horror derived from actual crimes. While I think a certain morbid curiosity is central to horror fandom, but I do want to restrain myself from taking too much pornographic joy in the suffering of real human beings. I think a certain degree of empathy is essential for a healthy mature mind and I always get a little skeeved out by how much joy some of my fellow fans get from real human suffering. On the other hand, I used to work in a job that exposed me to actual factual human suffering in a very real and direct way, and I know that it's a million miles away from anything we can fake. Maybe I'm overthinking this stuff, I dunno. Anyway, rant over.
Cropsey is not a movie that has a resolution. The mysteries don't get a tidy answer, questions on the drifter's guilt linger long after the trial ends, and the Staten Island-born filmmakers do a great job of exploring a creepy urban legend where the truth was just as strange as the fiction.