*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Clicking on some links may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*
Republished today in memory of Michael Parks, our own Howard Howe.
I became acquainted with a Walrus when I was lost at sea.
I would describe Tuskas a horror-comedy. I really would. I’d also describe it as the most atrocious, upsetting, horrific concept I’ve ever had to wrap my head (and my poor, poor eyes) around. So, while Kevin Smith will offer you his usual jokes, I cannot be responsible for how many of you will not find this funny. Just not even a little bit at all.
*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! For full disclosure, scroll to the end of this post!*
31 Horror Movies in 31 Days
One year ago to the day I started this blog with a post about John Carpenter’s Halloween. I drew Michael Myers’ in his clown costume in pencil and watercolor, and wrote a piece about how much I loved it, and horror, and October in general.
I started One Critical Bitch with horror movies on the brain. The genre of my heart, I could think of only one thing I could write about consecutively for 31 days. And here we are a year later, getting ready to do it again.
There is no arguing for The Midnight Meat Trainon anyone’s “Best Of” list; it offers nothing new, nothing overwhelmingly special. If you’ve heard of it at all, it probably took you a moment to remember what it was about, or where you saw it (probably on Chiller). But I bet you remembered that title. That title is to the point.
And the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain that within an hour, then within ten minutes, then within half a minute, now at this very instant – your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person, and that this is certain. The worst thing is that it is certain.
The monster in It Followsmoves only slightly faster than my favorite Night of the Living Dead zombies, yet it’s not so easily definable as either dead, zombie, person, ghost, or monster, even. There is some entity following Jay, but a label is not necessary to make whatever it is frightening. The threat is certain.That’s all a good horror movie needs.
Words can’t describe my undying love for this movie. At a time in my life when I watched a lot of basic-bitch Hollywood horror where the plot is clear(ish), the production design realistic, and the blood is blood-colored, Dario Argento’s Suspiriaswept into my line of vision like a sugar-coated, Italian-baked fairy tale. From the moment that first girl falls through the stained glass ceiling and hangs to death over a pool of pinky, neon-hued blood, I knew it: I was in love. If you need a preview, I’ve linked the original trailer here, and in the title up top.
While I didn’t plan on the 13th, I did purposely line this one up to screen after a few of the more “out-there” choices on my list (see Dead Ringers, the David Lynch shorts). Not because I find this film difficult to understand, or even all that abstract, but because I want it to be rightfully understood for the fairy tale princess story that it is. It is a horror movie. It is also beautifully feminine. Delicate. GORGEOUS (I can’t say that enough). And, in case you thought it couldn’t be done, absolutely brutal to boot.
Fairy tales as Disney has done them can be pretty easy to watch (I just think you’re watching them wrong – see Ursula, Dr. Facilier, fucking Maleficent). And most picture books you read to the kids at night make Cinderella seem like a sweet story about a girl who finally gets her dues, leaving out the long section about her sisters cutting off their toes and heels to fit in the shoe. If you’ve taken the time to peruse an unabridged copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll also know that the Grimm name is quite fitting, and you would think twice before reading these to your child again (except for my parents – thanks, Mom + Dad; I’m a better person for knowing about The Juniper Tree, the real Snow White, and the ever-popular The Mouse, The Bird, and The Sausage).
Suspiria is like a moving illustration from one of those stories, each scene swimming into the next, moving with a logic that doesn’t always make sense narratively, but makes so much sense visually. By that I mean that Argento’s mise-en-scene (his composition of a shot) is so on point, so beautifully laid out, so meticulously constructed, that the film is like a living storyboard. If you were to watch it with the sound off, you might understand it even better than with it on (BUT DON’T: you’ll miss the strangest stuff!). Suspiria is like a visual symphony, traveling from movement to movement, effortlessly repeating motifs, expressions, and colors. It is set in a ballet school, and that is a more than adequate metaphor for how the film itself functions – dancing from one scene to the next.
This is only made better by the sheer terror of its deaths. The first time I ever heard of Suspiria was in a Bravo mini-series about the scariest movie moments, in which they played a clip of the opening sequence (the stained glass hanging I mentioned earlier). I bought it the next day. There’s a lot more where that came from.
At its core, Suspiria is about witches. Women witches.
A coven under cover in a centuries old dance academy. Its soundtrack won’t let you forget it – the infamous Goblin score whispers “witch, witch, WITCH!” endlessly in the background. It is the best of the best, as far as I’m concerned. Have I gotten that across yet?
This week, I’ll be delving into the strange world of scary, fairy-tale horror. If you are going with me, please, start here.
I choose Sarah’s death (Susie, our main character’s, best (only) friend). In the best example of the film’s abandonment of narrative logic to satisfy suspense and visual awe, Sarah’s death, once you think about it, makes very little sense. Trying to escape an unknown killer, Sarah climbs to the top of the room she is trapped in, attempting to throw herself through a small window into the adjoining room. She clearly looks through this window before she jumps. She must have seen what’s in there. But when the door knob finally opens and she throws herself in, SURPRISE! It’s inexplicably filled with barbed wire. And of course, she doesn’t just sit there – she rolls around in it. A lot. You’ll enjoy this, you Sadist, you.
*PSA: This is a dubbed film. That’s standard for Italian-horror. They’re using international actors, speaking many different languages, and they dub over in English for its intended American release. It takes some getting used to. But it’s all part of the charm.
If You Like It, Watch:
Dead Alive – Peter Jackson was making this kind of wonderful insanity before he ever thought about stuffy-old Lord of the Rings (I like LOTR, it’s just different). If you’re relishing the pretty, pretty blood of Italian horror, I’d recommending venturing here next. It’s not pretty, it’s stunningly revolting.
Opera – If you’re digging Argento, onward! Opera is a Giallo (the Italian crime-horror genre) similar to Suspiria, but in the spirit of the 1980s, maybe slightly more over the top and bitchin’ (my fav adjective).
Since we were getting a little freaky with Dead Ringers, I thought I might get away with something even more abstract for horror movie #12. In fact, let’s not watch one, but TWO. Don’t worry – they’re short (But do worry – they’re David Lynch).
Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)
“It’s better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.” – David Lynch
For any other director, I’d suggest their experimental short films as sort of the “deep cuts” of their filmography – in that, maybe you should go there once you’ve seen some of their features, figured out where they were going a little bit first, made sure you liked them. With Mr. David Lynch, who polarizes so many, I’m going to be backwards about it. I think if you start with his most abstract, sometimes nonsensical shorts, you’ve got a better chance of understanding exactly where he’s coming from. That way, when you’re watching Mulholland Driveon a Friday night thinking, “Alex, this movie makes no sense, and it’s forever long, and why in the hell are we watching a woman sing Roy Orbison’s Crying in Spanish?” you can think back to that five-minute short I made you watch and remember – “oh yeah, he was trying to do that.”
He’s still trying to do that. And that’s what makes him so special (noticing I use “special” a lot – I genuinely feel that way, so I’m going to stick with it). When Lynch first animated his painting and created a looping film called Six Men Getting Sick, he was trying to see a painting move. When you watch any feature film he’s made since, he is still trying to make a painting move. So for all the confusion that Lynch movies seem to cause, I can’t help but think that they are all just his vision of a moving painting, done over and over, in different colors, with different brushstrokes.
There is no doubt, watching this set of short films, late at night, in a dark room, that the images and sounds contained within are disturbing and frightening. While Six Men is definitely abstract, The Grandmother is straightforward (as much as it can be) in confronting death. I call them both horror movies. They are both art-horrifying (for that crazy discussion, see the last post) to me.
I quoted Lynch on “meaning” at the top of the post because I don’t want to get caught up trying to explain what either of these pieces means. Whatever it means to me, is going to be different than what it means to you. This is the beauty of getting really abstract and experimental with the film you watch. Lynch was a painter first, and director second: you have his and my permission to watch these movies the way you’d look at a painting. Step back, cock your head to the side, and just let the image invade your thoughts.
If you do that, you’re going to have nightmares, and that means you’re doing it exactly right. Good job. Now, stop thinking you need to have an answer to all your questions for the film to make sense. When you look at a Monet landscape, you probably feel a certain calm, serene way (I’m sure there’s someone that’s deeply disturbed by Monet). Do you need to know what it means to appreciate it? No. The questions and the feelings they create are your answer. David Lynch movies live by that logic, too.
In Six Men, I encourage you to sit through the full six loops. If you’re like myself and my boyfriend watching this, you’ll feel a strong urge to say “Done!” after loop two. However, when you hit loop four, you’ll start to see and hear things you didn’t notice before. By the time the last loop comes around, you may wish you were in the art gallery where they loop this 24/7 (just me?), so you could have a bit more time to gather up all the details. I notice the sounds growing more obnoxious, and then flattening, and then deadening entirely. I start to focus on the colors changing, and I am incredibly drawn to the purple cast over the last frame. I watch the spindles the vomit makes as it falls from the mens’ mouths. I know, I’m weird. But what the hell do you see? Roses and waterlilies? I think not.
After that, I played The Grandmother, remembering that it combines this animation style with live action. Definitely not remembering that it begins with two adults crawling on the ground making dog noises. It’s as disturbing as it sounds. Their faces are distorted in some way. Then we learn they are parents. This kid needs a better role model. Not a problem – he grows one.
The birth of Grandmother is why I chose this to begin with. It’s gruesome, and gory, and repugnant, and also just gorgeous. I love watching her grow, I love watching the boy water his bed (if you’re reading this and not seeing this, you’re going to think I’m nuts based on those two thoughts, aren’t you?). I find the relationship between them really lovely. Which makes it all the more awful when things go awry. If this is way out of your comfort zone, just think of The Grandmother as the darker, edgier cousin of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (Lynch purists everywhere are closing their browser windows now).
Other Things to Notice:
I think this might be true of all recent releases of Lynch films, but if you’re watching these on DVD, make sure you take the time to run the program that helps you change your TV settings. It will change the tone and lighting of the blacks, which is not just a pet-peeve of David’s (see this little snippet of delight), but a serious necessity to see everything that’s going on in The Grandmother. Otherwise, it’s going to appear very underexposed and dark on your screen. When adjusted correctly, you’ll be so impressed by the shapes that appear out of the dark. Like a painting, the lighting is exquisitely contrived, and is part of what makes these films effectively scary. So just do it.
Sound, also, is INCREDIBLE. Lynch as a sound designer is one of the very best, and his films are not only enhanced by his choices, but sometimes told entirely through sound. Both of these shorts have no dialogue, so the sound effects are everything. They are also scary. If you have a Halloween party, feel free to turn off the picture and just play the soundtrack to these on a loop. Your guests will leave quickly.
If you do have access to the full The Short Films of David Lynch DVD, I suggest watching the interviews that Lynch gives with each short. They’re not overly informative (he would never dream of it), and there’s just enough info to give you some idea of when/how the ideas for these strange things came to him. But then, nothing can really prepare you for a Grandmother growing out of a bed.
Finally, I’m going to point out that both Six Men and The Grandmother are available to watch, in their entirety, online. Search YouTube and you’ll find them. But out of respect for David, remember this.
If You Like It, Watch:
Eraserhead: This is a film based on dream logic and only dream logic. People who love Eraserhead really love Eraserhead. Only way to tell if you’re one of them, is to watch it.
Inland Empire: The people with bunny heads (yep), will remind you of the animation in both these shorts. The locomotion dance sequence will give you life. And the creeps.
The Straight Story: This is not a horror movie. It’s just here to prove to David Lynch haters that he can direct a movie so normal, Disney produced it. Just FYI.
I can’t imagine a single person that wouldn’t love this movie.
I also think everyone loves The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, so take this with a grain of salt. But, I’m just going to say it: if you don’t likethese fiends, I don’t know if we can be friends.
Fiend Without A Face
I don’t mean to be morbid, but did you see his face after he died?
Atomic. Mental. Vampires.
What more do you need?
Brains with spinal cord tails. Got it!
Fiend Without A Face is the perfect amalgamation of horror and science fiction. It has the kind of masterful claymation effects work that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. It’s gory for a film made in ’58, it’s well written, easy to follow, and honestly: Why don’t things like this win Oscars?
But I digress – this is just a ton of fun in a compact 92 minutes. It’s also a pretty brilliant commentary on American military and nuclear power. I really wish I could have gotten Fiend Without a Face expert R. Suellau in here to guest post on it, but perhaps we can book her for a later date. This sort of work really does deserve to be expounded upon.
I’m going to do my (brief) best.
Sci-Fi is not as much my bag as Horror, but I find that the films from this period (40s-50s) are often flirting with horror, if not outright combining the two. So I have a soft spot for them. The original Fly with Vincent Price is a perennial favorite. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic example of chill inducing sci-fi. And of course, mutant insect pictures likeThem!and Tarantula* are as much about the creep factor as they are the weird science (*I don’t watch any of the spider movies for personal reasons, so no, I can’t really tell you anything about them. Except that I’m scared of them. A lot).
What’s maybe most special about Fiend to me is that its creatures aren’t really creatures at all – they’re human brains.
Of course, they’re human brains with spinal cords that crawl around and kill people of their own accord, but still – they’re pieces of us. And their source is not a chemistry set, or an alien ship, but the thoughts of a man projected into the world, propelled into reality by nuclear power. That’s a big statement there. It says something about the power of men. It says something about the power of war machines. And it says something about what we choose to use our brains for.
And it is especially telling that these brains, sneaking up and choking the life out of people, are terrifying. It’s as if the filmmakers are suggesting we’re afraid of our own intellectualism, afraid of our own ideas, afraid of what it is we might be capable of. Food for thought. Literally. (I think that millennialism almost works here!)
Brains climbing up trees is pretty killer. BUT, the real stand-out for me here is, for some reason, the explication bit. When they finally get the Professor talking about these creatures he’s materialized with his mind, he really gets going. And going. And going. And going. It’s a classic genre moment, where the science behind the irrationality is finally explained, and this narrative bit (complete with amazing flashback sequence!) is PEAK mad scientist. It’s also oddly serious, and when I sat to think about the implications of the Professor’s thought experiment, I found it genuinely frightening. Not to mention, I live not far from a nuclear power plant (we’re in the “stay where you are, you’re irradiated already” zone), so the thought of radiation levels enhancing human thought patterns, enough to power a telepathy which can induce brain soldiers is TOO REAL, guys. TOO REAL.
Other Things to Notice:
The fantastic performances of the victims. I have never been so thrilled to watch people choke by invisible assailants.
And on that note – the sound effects that accompany said assailants. I think this film has some of the best sound design of any movie I’ve seen (old or new). The sounds of encroaching death are kind of crunchy and slimy. And they are chilling.
Mimic – Underrated first big studio film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Like Fiend, this involves scientists/government overstepping their bounds and creating something that just can’t be stopped. Plus, giant bugs in the subway.
C.H.U.D.– This isn’t a good movie. But if you want to see one of my favorite little radioactive monsters, just fast forward to all the best parts.
I have a couple of spots on my October calendar that haven’t got a horror movie booked yet. I could fill them with my own selections, but I’d rather get some of yours. Are there any films you think I must cover? Better yet, can someone find me one I haven’t seen? It’s a challenge, but one of you must be up for it.
Leave your movie suggestions in the comments, please!
Why am I watching The Grudge? Couldn’t I at least pay the Japanese some respect and watch Ju-on? The answer is simple: I never intended to watch The Grudge, my copy of The Haunting (1963) has yet to arrive, and my boyfriend happens to, for some inexplicable reason, own a copy of the 2004 American remake of this Japanese ghost story. And it fits the haunted house theme. Plus, you know what?
It’s kind of good.
There is something evil there.
What’s particularly great about this scheduling mishap is that I get to talk about the differences between American and Japanese haunted houses. They are so different, I often find Japanese horror very difficult for my American-raised brain to comprehend. But, looking on the bright side of Hollywood’s early 2000s obsession with remaking the best of Japanese horror, if you start with a comfy-cozy American remake like this one, you can start to find your way around in the dark a little bit. Maybe even get yourself acquainted enough to venture to the places I’ll be going later this week.
The typical American haunted house is haunted by some entity. It might not always be named (The Shining), it might be a physical ghost (Poltergeist), or it might be a presence of some thing or someone that at some point, did some bad thing inside it (Amityville Horror).
Japanese ghosts, and the ways they inhabit a place, are far more complex.
Consider that Japanese ghosts, or Yurei, go back to Kabuki and woodblock art in the 18th Century. If you google Japanese art and demons or ghosts, you’ll get an incredible amount of these iconic images, and you can get a nice mini-foundation in what Japanese horror film is drawing from, both in tone and imagery. You’ll also notice there are several different classifications of “ghost” within the Japanese language. Kind of like we have the notion of ghost or poltergeist (if you know that kind of trivia), but far more serious, and with a lot more variety.
As I understand it, our Grudge ghost is an example of Onryo, a vengeful spirit materializing when someone has suffered a particularly violent death (murder or suicide).
In a classic American, or even European gothic storyline, that ghost would haunt the house, and therefore the people that move into it. However, the haunting itself is generally limited to the bounds of the house – in The Shining, the crisis is averted when Wendy and Danny escape it. In The Haunting in Connecticut, The Campbells are freed once Matt releases the souls of the bodies trapped in the walls (you’ve had a couple days to watch this one already, guys).
In The Grudge, the haunting has its roots in the house, but may attach itself to a person or many people. Once the fury contained within the house has infected you, its ghost is capable of following you into the outside world, seemingly spreading itself, or seeking out those it can continue to lay vengeance on. So not only are you and your family within the house vulnerable, but anyone connected to you is fair game. Naturally, this ups the stakes quite a bit, as Kayako’s ghost travels from one apartment to the next, through phone lines and video feeds, seeking out anyone close.
I think the natural inclination is to go with the actual materialization of Kayako’s ghost (her head in the doorway!), or the “hand-in-the-back-of-the-head” scene that everybody was talking about in 2004, but I must admit, the very first scene is the best for me. Bill Pullman pushing up on the railing, and then casually throwing himself over the balcony, is perfectly unnerving.
Other Things to Notice:
I can remember why I didn’t care for this when I saw it in the theater, and it had a lot to do with some not-so-special effects (and also, for anyone who had just seen The Ring remake, you were jaded because it was legit TERRIFYING, and there were very high expectations for all things coming after it). Those are still there, but looking past them on this second viewing, I noticed just how pretty the movie is. The design of the ghost, her long black hair, her pale face and big black eyes, the little flecks of blood on her skin – this is a very pretty creature. And at its best, it really does evoke the woodblock figures of the art it’s based on.
The setting is equally beautiful in its minimal, muted tones, and there’s no denying the genuine fear that’s present when moving yourself to a new country. Having Sarah Michelle Gellar play an American exchange student new to Japan is an effective piece of characterization, and a great way to introduce an American audience metaphorically to a very different culture of horror film.
Also, love to SMG (Buffy, herself), who is as adorable and vulnerable as ever. And the excellent casting of Grace Zabriskie (underused!!) and Bill Pullman (go watch him in The Serpent and the Rainbow to get the full Bill fix).
If You Like It, Watch:
*I’d really like to pretend I watch a lot of J-Horror, but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s an area I lack a lot of knowledge in. HOWEVER, I’ll hopefully be changing that in the next week or so. In the meantime, I highly suggest…
The Ring – The American remake helmed by Gore Verbinski was probably the scariest movie made in the early aughts. It holds up even in a post-VHS era. I have not watched Ringu, but I hear it’s superior. Take your pick.
The Eclipse– Turning to Ireland for a moment, I’m reminded of this Ciaran Hinds film from 2009. It’s a slow building gothic-style ghost story, and it also has a very different haunting logic from what Hollywood delivers. It’s awfully sublime, and even non-horror fans will enjoy this one.
Tonight was supposed to be Pumpkinhead, but Netflix failed me, and Phantasm arrived instead. However, the big bad Monster theme of this week will not be defeated, because when you’re talking about boogeymen, stalker types, The Tall Man shall suffice. Know what I’m sayin’? You probably don’t.
“This guy’s not going to leak all over my ice cream, is he?”
Phantasm is weird.
I don’t think I can really prime you for this one any better than that. It’s just very, very weird.
I drew a finger. With orange and yellow pussy stuff around it. That really does make sense once you’ve seen this.
Let’s talk a little first about Don Coscarelli. And to talk about Don Coscarelli, we should really talk a bit about Herschel Gordon Lewis. And also George Romero. Because they are all relevant, and they will help you get yourself in B-Movie Horror mode, which is necessary to give a film like Phantasm the viewing it deserves.
If you’ve never ventured into B-territory, then you’ll turn this on and you’ll probably think – “Geez, this is awful.” And by traditional Hollywood standards we’ve become to be accustomed to, yeah, I guess it is. BUT, please remember that mainstream Hollywood produces some very serious, high production value DRECK (I should make a list!). And though what makes them “bad” may be different, it is so important that you let the B-Movie brilliance wash over you a bit – because true horror fans are made here, in the gooey, gorey, orange and yellow colored puss.
So, Herschel Gordon Lewis: In the ’60s and ’70s, he creates a little subgenre called Splatter films (for obvious gorey reasons). He does this, not from inside a mainstream Hollywood studio, but from an ad agency in Chicago. The movies have no budget to speak of. They are full of naked women. Their blood is the brightest red you’ve ever seen, and the acting is unintentionally comical. They screen these flicks at drive-ins as double features and openers to bigger fare. When you watch Blood Feast or Wizard of Gore, you are indulging in pulpy nostalgia. It’s like eating junk food. And if you have a taste for it, well, it’s hard to stop watching.
Hallmarks of the B-Movie
(in case you like a clean little list):
A particular genre (horror, western, science fiction etc.)
Low-budget and independently financed
Often inspire many, many sequels
Use unknown or untrained actors
Are absolutely fucking crazy (I mean, sometimes)
I say they’re absolutely fucking crazy, especially in the horror genre because, well, they are. And they are because, outside of the Hollywood system, you can get away with, well… dare I say, anything?
Let’s look at George Romero. He made his zombie movies in Pittsburgh, with a background in commercial and industrial filmmaking. Night of the Living Dead, if you are not familiar, is some really raw shit. People vomited at screenings of this film. It is iconic. And it spawned Dead sequels (not to be confused with the Living Dead sequels – though no less B-quality), and it addressed social issues (as horror as a genre is so excellent at doing), and the zombies became beloved. So beloved, that Millennials can’t stop making ten-thousand television shows, and books, and comics, and crocheted pot holders out of them.
I want you to think of Don Coscarelli like you think of Romero. Because that’s how his fans think of him. As the Godfather of an entire world. And the Phantasm series is his Dead.
It’s still incredibly difficult for me to tell what Phantasm is actually about. But its psychotic dream logic basically defeats that purpose, anyway, so I suggest just sitting back and enjoying what it throws at you.
There are dwarves. There are little black spidery creatures with red eyes and sharp teeth (this really does scare the crap out of me, be forewarned). There’s a silver ball that flies around a mortuary killing people and reflecting things?
I know, I’m losing you (or really pulling you in, if you’re a weirdo like me). But wait for The Tall Man. Because he’s GREAT.
The Tall Man isn’t actually all that tall. But he is tall enough to be slightly off-putting, and that’s very effective. He stalks these boys from funeral to funeral (people keep dying!), and it’s never clear if he’s really a mortician, or a ghost, or maybe even a woman in a lavender dress. It’s a mystery. It’s a pretty good one.
I said it once, and I’ll say it again – when this little black spidery thing with teeth comes out of the box and the guys try to push it down the garbage disposal, I cringe. I don’t know why. It doesn’t look real. It doesn’t matter.
If you enjoy David Lynch (I know there are a few of you), you can surely appreciate what Coscarelli is trying to do here. I implore all those who love the dream logic of Eraserhead to put in some time with the first couple Phantasms – they’re of a similar mindset, but with a sense of humor. And again, yellow/orange puss.
My advice to you? Just go with it. You’ll be confused, and you’ll have fun.
*If you’re looking to watch Phantasm, just know that it’s not so easy to purchase a copy at the moment. However, if you’ve got a Netflix DVD account you can get it – and DO NOT MISS the entire Don Coscarelli film archive in the previews!
If You Like It (WEIRDO!), Watch:
Hellraiser – If you like your splatter-gore with a lot more sex and BDSM, this is for you. And as far as monsters go, Pinhead is THE GREATEST. I honestly believe that. *Currently streaming on Netflix Instant
Show the Kids:
Little Monsters – You probably didn’t expect a kiddo suggestion with this one, but this is a B-movie experience for the littles in your life. It is rated PG for some language and a LOT of fart jokes, but it’s fun and creepy, and I think you’ll enjoy it right along with them.
Next week we leave behind the monsters and venture into my personal favorite, Haunted House territory. In the spirit of my current New England home, let’s watch…
In movies, it’s thumbs up or thumbs down. 98% fresh or a dismal 12% rotten. A paragraph review in your local paper that a sixty-five year old white man wrote to let you know that the latest Spielberg effort is not nearly as good as the last. It’s a textbook-sized tome that assumes you know Bergman from Godard, have chosen sides in Citizen Kane vs. Casablanca, and would never be caught dead watching Pain & Gain on a Friday night. You know it, I know it – At its best, criticism is pretentious. At its worst, it’s just boring.
Welcome to One Critical Bitch – Your new home for honest, nuanced, not-boring criticism.
And as promised by sassy use of the word bitch, it’s also a safe place for sarcasm, strong opinions, and unafraid conversation about art. Because film – even what you’re watching in the background when you “Netflix and Chill” – is art.
Today is October 1st. Best time to be frightened all year. Let’s start with a horror movie.31, actually.
It is my mission, for the month of October, to bring you a scary movie every single day.
You may think you hate horror. You may think you only like movies made after 2005 (this is a real thing, and a real problem). You may even think Saw is the greatest horror film of all time (!!). Don’t worry, I can help.
First up, I’m watching:
Fate never changes.
Widely considered the first of a sub-genre that dominated the 1980s in American cinema, I can’t think of a better hulking, knife-wielding, scary stalker to kick this Horror-Thon off.
Of course, there was Texas Chainsaw before it, and the human-on-human revenge violence of Last House on the Left, but Carpenter’s creation was the break-out hit. Mainstream horror temporarily pushed aside Universal-style movie monsters to make monsters of men – or, angry dudes in masks, as I like to call them. John Carpenter’s Halloween set the tropes for the teenage miscreants, punishing violence, and bad parenting that pervades every Slasher movie after it.
It is responsible for hoards of sequels, many terrible rip-offs, and something obsessives like me call The Final Girl* – whom Jamie Lee Curtis will forever personify, even when she shows up in those probiotic yogurt commercials.
But watching it for the umpteenth time today (it’s more than thirty now), I’m drawn on this watch to Myers as the kids describe him: The Boogeyman.
Michael is an escaped mental patient. He’s not technically a monster. But every time a kid sees this guy’s shadow, that word comes flying out of their mouths. And certainly, when the camera is sitting right over his shoulder, watching Laurie Strode walk down the street, he feels like the Boogeyman. In fact, the camera trick rather makes you feel like the Boogeyman, too – two thumbs up for voyeurism.
What is Michael Myers, exactly? In pop culture he’s an icon, in the context of the film, let’s call him “other.” He who jumps in a single bound on top of cars, can drive with ease though he’s never been taught, (spoiler! though, not really…) survives a fall from two-stories up with a bullet in his chest – Michael is the horror equivalent of Superman. Though, unlike the alien origins of humanity’s savior, Clark Kent, the Haddonfield Boogeyman is 100% human – with one or ten social cues missing. This is what makes him, in my opinion, 100% scary.
Watch Michael stab (as he’s known to do) a butcher knife into male victim #1, pinning him up against the wall. As he hangs there, dying, Carpenter doesn’t choose to pull away, but let’s you observe the shock of the moment for the next ten or so seconds. You’re left watching a frame that is as elegantly composed as a painting, as Myers cocks his head to side, thinking hard about the work he’s done. It’s kind of sweet, actually. If you’ve seen 1931’s Frankenstein (and even if you haven’t, you probably know this scene) think of it in relation to the monster throwing the little girl into the pond, letting her drown. There, the implication is that the monster can’t help but misunderstand the difference between a flower and a human life – he means no harm, but his monstrous nature demands it. In Halloween, Michael Myers is the monster giving in to his nature – only an evil, knowing, human one.
Scary. Socially relevant. Amazing.
*I didn’t expand on Final Girls here, but we’ll get to it. Check out Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws for the original definition, and arguably the best walk through of Halloween ever written.