Wednesday, 30 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Dir: Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Jim Siedow, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain. 1974

When I finally got the opportunity to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a murky VHS tape, surrounded by a group of friends, I admit I didn’t know what to think. As a nine-year-old when it was first released, I knew TCM by reputation and by the images its sensational title creates. I also knew about about it from my mother’s student admin assistant who told me too many details (which I’m sure is a form of child abuse; trust me, she succeeded in scaring me.), and from TV ads that were absolutely terrifying to me. During this first viewing as a teenager, however, I was at a loss. I remember being completely disturbed by the hitchhiker, stunned by Kirk’s demise, put on edge by Pam’s impalement, and repulsed by the dinner scene in general, and by Grandpa trying to sledgehammer Sally in particular. After many subsequent viewings, what I’ve come to believe about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in all its ferocious horror beauty, is that it’s not a movie you watch, it’s a movie you process.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Session 9


Session 9
Dir: Brad Anderson. Starring David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, and Josh Lucas. 2001

Interesting that the most contemporary movie on this list uses one of horror’s oldest standards – the spooky building – as an essential part of its eerie charm. It’s what this building is, or was, however, that adds strength to its power to scare. The Danvers State Hospital is a dilapidated mental hospital that is distressed through with the ghosts of its patients; not in the wandering spirit sense, but in the way the worn out building and abandoned furnishings offer glimpses of the suffering that undoubtedly took place there. A crew has been hired to remove asbestos from the property, each of these men contributing to a single unhealthy personality that is reflected by the building that houses them/it. As work progresses, one of the men discovers patient session tapes in the basement, and begins to listen to the case of a woman with multiple personalities, one of them a murderer. As tensions grow among the members of the crew, the session tapes also increase in intensity until the last message is delivered, warbling like something unearthly on the reel-to-reel session tape. Too subtle for some, Session 9 gives me the creeps by touching on things I sense I’ve only partly begun to understand. It's a very lonely-feeling movie.


This Image is Disgusting and Shouldn’t Be Posted

As a movie fanatic, and particularly as a cult movie fanatic, I post on Facebook every time I watch something so that I can get feedback from other cult movie fans. These posts always include either the movie poster or the DVD cover art.

Last night I re-watched Robert Hartford-Davis’ 1968 sleaze fest Corruption. The new cover art from Grindhouse Releasing accurately reflects the movie. It’s a toned down version of the art included inside the Blu-Ray package. The cover version, pictured here, features a deranged Peter Cushing with a straight razor at the throat of a female victim with the leering image of his (in-film) wife looming in the background. In a plot device that could only exist in the wild world of exploitation (or the rarified world of international arthouse sensations; see Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage), Cushing is in search of pituitary glands to ensure the success of his wife’s facial reconstruction surgery. The film is silly, sleazy, and extremely entertaining for fans of sleaze cinema.

So, the day after viewing Corruption, I posted the following:

Last night’s viewing: Robert Hartford-Davis’ CORRUPTION via Grindhouse Releasing’s perfect new Blu.



After a few positive comments from cult movies fans (all male), a friend who was formerly a key staff member of the provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and a friend whose opinion I respect, commented, stating, “This image is disgusting and shouldn’t be posted”.

Reading the comment, it felt like the bottom of my stomach had dropped out. I knew my friend was commenting from a feminist perspective, and I consider myself feminist too. I responded by saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, that I respected my friend’s opinion, I’d delete the post (I did), but that I thought she was seeing only one thing here. Then, of course, I began to ponder the matter.

Was I only seeing one thing here? The answer is an unqualified yes. The fact of what was in the lower half of the cover art didn’t cross my mind. I was focused on the post and not the image which I’d sort of accepted as just an, I don’t know… accouterment.

I love horror movies, but I abhor real violence. I don’t believe that imaginary violence causes real violence, but I do believe that how we discuss and joke about groups and individuals that have any kind of difference from ourselves creates an overall belief system about others that can have a real life, negative effect.

As a horror fan, I accept the Blu-Ray cover art as part of the language of horror, and in this case, I didn’t spend much time considering the gender of the players involved. Admittedly, I don’t mind ruffling a few feathers. Sometimes I enjoy it. In fact, I like to be offended myself sometimes. Why is that? Because it forces me to take a step back and say, “Why do I find that offensive?” It’s a chance to understand myself better, and I make it a practice to do this every time I feel offended. To me, it’s something worth analyzing, even if the answer seems obvious; it isn’t always.

But I don’t believe in promoting hate. In all honestly, whether this means I’m a prime candidate for that dubious thing known as sensitivity training, or whether I’m right, I don’t believe that’s what I was doing by posting that image.

Perhaps its simply a question of venue, and Facebook may not be the place to post these kind of things, but I want to be able to connect with fellow horror fans from around the world there. And so that’s what I’m doing here. I’m posting a link to this piece on Facebook, and I’m tagging a few people specifically – most of them women - because I want to hear what they have to say about this issue in general, but not the Corruption cover in particular. You up for it? Let’s have a levelheaded, respectful dialogue about it.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Rosemary's Baby


Rosemary's Baby
Dir: Roman Polanski. Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, and Sidney Blackmer. 1968

Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby was the first I read non-stop, staying up all night when I was a young teen to reach its end. Roman Polanski’s film adaptation is well documented as being incredibly faithful to its source, and happily for me, that translates into the film having the same power to fascinate as the book. A look at contemporary witchcraft and devil worship, the film is also a true feminist tale in that it clearly illustrates the way a woman can be used by men and even other women as a vessel, as well as demonstrating how society can perceive a pregnant woman as paranoid and unstable. A wholly engrossing experience, Rosemary’s Baby is the best kind of paranoid entertainment, the kind wherein everything that has come in earlier scenes gains new meaning as the plot reveals itself.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Psycho


Psycho
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin. 1960

Where to start with Psycho? I suppose it make sense to start by stating that Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite director. He was a man who understood both fear and moviemaking. For me, his use of a camera to tell a story or to explore a theme is unmatched. Add these convictions to the fact that Hitchcock was at the peak of his ability as a director when he made Psycho, and we get a horror film that I believe is flawlessly made, save for the clunky explanation scene at the end. Much like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its studio imposed opening and closing that softens the film's thrills, I like to think of Psycho without this scene. Luckily, the coda that follows it is immensely creepy. Over the years, however, Psycho’s ability to scare has lessened due to many factors including familiarity and conceptual appropriation, but we’re still left with an exquisitely made classic that explores desperation, paranoia, and a host of other truly dark subject matter like nothing that came before it.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Martin


Martin
Dir: George A. Romero. Starring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazelm, Christine Forrest, and Tom Savini. 1976

I love Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but with Martin, the filmmaker left the undead to concentrate on a single sad, solitary psychosexual, and delivered what is, for me, his finest flick. Martin is a post-teenage blood fiend who is sent to live with relatives in industrial Pittsburgh. It’s there that the battle between folkloric horror and mental illness is fought, aided by outstanding effects from Tom Savini, who also acts in the film. This contemporary take on an ages-old monster (the vampire) works as smoothly as Romero’s updating of the zombie, and serves to (sympathetically?) advance the modern concept of the human monster among us as Hitchcock did with Psycho.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
King Kong


King Kong
Dirs: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot. 1933

King Kong, the movie, is legendary. Beautifully conceived, cast, directed, photographed and animated, it stands as one of cinema’s great works of imagination. And that’s to say nothing of Kong the creature, a raging beast. He’s frightening in his single mindedness and disregard for anyone and everything around him. Twice separated from his object of what… lust? love? curiosity? – Kong stomps, chews, tears, and climbs his way through Skull Island and New York City, leaving a trail of destruction behind him that is cleverly addressed in the follow up, Song of Kong. Twice remade but never matched, King Kong has earned its title as the Eighth Wonder of the World.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Jaws

Jaws
Dir: Steven Spielberg. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton. 1975

This movie still makes me nervous when I’m waist-deep in water. That’s because Jaws successfully exploits our fear of the unknown, a fear that can easily be transferred from murky water to dry land. Its simple plot, aped in countless slasher flicks – shark terrorizes holiday community – is given depth by adding interesting characters and exploring the theme of overcoming fear. For my money, Spielberg has never achieved this level of pure moviemaking again, not with Raiders of the Lost Ark and not with Jurassic Park. Here, he creates scenes that exist only to scare, and he succeeds with the help of John Williams' Psycho-at-Sea score and Verna Fields' spot-on editing.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Dir: Don Siegel. Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones. 1956

This, the original film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a taut and tight horror flick that peddles that most 1950’s of flavours – paranoia. Beneath all the speculation about whether its theme is anti-McCarthyism or anti-Communism lies a stone cold tale about losing our humanity. In fact, the scene I find the most effective is the one that shows exactly what is lost when you become incorporated. SPOILER: Hiding while being pursued by pod people, Miles kisses Becky and receives nothing back but a cold stare. END SPOILER. It’s at this moment when Body Snatchers' humanity really comes across for me. When a nudge to maintain our individuality, emotion, and free thought is this entertaining, how can you refuse? As for the much lamented bookend scenes imposed by the studio, I do my best to ignore them, and just mentally fade out with the original ending as intended.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Hands of the Ripper


Hands of the Ripper
Dir: Peter Sasdy. Starring Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, and Keith Bell. 1971

Hands of the Ripper takes everything I love about Hammer Horror (but for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), and presents them in one glorious picture – The gothic atmosphere, the crimson, the contemporary twist on a well-known tale, the monster waiting to strike, the innocent heroine... The difference being that here, the monster waiting to strike is the innocent heroine. Never before has there been a Hammer heroine with more pathos than Anna, daughter of Jack the Ripper, whose own murderous rage is unknowingly unleashed when a perfect storm of circumstance occurs. Our hero, Dr. Pritchard, is closer to filling the role of villain as he enables Anna to commit her crimes due to his fascination with her psychiatric condition. It’s this grey area, set against a backdrop of Victorian England, sĂ©ances and murder, that draws me to Hands of the Ripper time and time again, standing as Hammers’ greatest Freudian take on the gothic.

I'd previously written about Hands of the Ripper in My Hammer Horror Dilemma. Click here to read it.


Monday, 7 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
Halloween


Halloween
Dir: John Carpenter. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, and P.J. Soles. 1978

Written about ad nauseam, Halloween is a superb horror flick that is lovingly crafted and delivers on its scare promise. Carpenter is adept at creating tightly knit worlds that make sense in and of themselves, that focus on straightforward plots supporting characters that are knowable, and situations, no mater how outlandish, that we can relate to. He was aided, in no small part, by excellent support and co-writing from producer Debra Hill. Halloween is, in fact, an instance of all departments working at their peak. It makes our job as an audience, to sit back and enjoy, easy. From that perspective, it seems impossible to watch Halloween without wanting to yell advice to Laurie Strode, the world’s most famous final girl.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Fog



The Fog
Dir: John Carpenter. Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Kyes, and John Houseman. 1980

Imagine trying to follow Halloween. The pressure must have been immense, but in hindsight Halloween director John Carpenter succeeded with The Fog, a film that has gained in reputation in the years since its release. The opening with John Houseman telling kids (and the audience) the film’s backstory as they sit around a campfire sets the tone for what’s to come, but it’s the following sequence that seals the deal for me. In the dead of night, as its centennial dawns, things go haywire in the town of Antonio Bay. Bottles fall and shatter, gas pumps jump out of their cradles, car horns begin honking, and phones start ringing. It’s a truly creepy compilation of sound and image that warns of things to come. This sense of impending dread helps to make The Fog stand out against its classic ghost storytelling format – spectres appear to right a wrong – as do its abundant atmosphere, suspense, and the unusual characters with which Carpenter has populated the town. Of all my favourite horror films, this one may be (to paraphrase the Creepshow poster) the most fun I’ve had being scared.


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Exorcist


The Exorcist
Dir: William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, and Jack MacGowran. 1973

"Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house."

In a sense, The Exorcist is the hardest of my favourite horror films to write about. It has been so thoroughly discussed and it looms so large in my horror history that it’s difficult to know where to start. I truly love this movie, however, so what I feel I can add to the writing about it is this – The Exorcist was the first movie I encountered that I knew was beyond my understanding. As a 12 or 13-year old, I knew that what I was seeing was introducing me to things for which I had neither a reference nor a compass to navigate, and that quite possibly what I was seeing could have a lasting negative effect on me. That is to say that in the short term I feared nightmares; in the long term I feared scarring my psyche. My response was not unlike that of many adults at the time of The Exorcist's release. It’s this kind of reaction that most horror movies reach for, but too few achieve. Today, some complain that the absolutely necessary and beautiful prologue in Iraq is too slow moving. Today, some laugh at the film’s horrific sequences or deride them with a “that’s no big deal” attitude. Make no mistake - laughter was a response the film sometimes earned on its initial release too, sometimes as a result of its extreme imagery, sometimes as a relief after making it through another onscreen challenge, and sometimes, I suppose, because some people just don't buy into the film at all. Despite that, I'm willing to bet that each time the film is screened for a crowd today there is someone who is being terrified by The Exorcist, someone who can feel the impact of watching helplessly as a person they love is brutalized, of watching that person become someone else, of losing the people they love as Karras loses his mother and Chris McNeil loses her daughter.

To get a glimpse of audience reaction to The Exorcist in 1973, click here. For an account of my first half-viewing of The Exorcist, click here.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Devils


The Devils
Dir: Ken Russell. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones and Michael Gothard. 1971

The Devils is Ken Russell at his most controlled and his most out of control. It’s a fever movie about fervor that kicked off the Nunsploitation craze of the 1970’s, outraged some and invigorated others. To this day, Warner Bros., the studio that released the film in 1971, has still not released a subsequent completely uncut version of The Devils, and in fact, the studio seems to regard it as some family shame to be locked away and never spoken of. That’s too bad, because it’s one of the greatest films they’ve ever produced. The major controversy surrounding The Devils relates to its portrayal of religion as cruel, vengeful, and morally repulsive, but I think there’s more to it than that. Wrapped around its central theme is a nightmare version of what can happen when love, lust and infatuation get out of control, an unsettling representation of the joy we find in punishing people for perceived arrogance, and a none too subtle look at our lust for bloodshed. These elements combined make for a strong tonic of a movie that hits its viewer on multiple levels so that you never know which wound to tend to at any given time.