Posts Tagged ‘genre

26
Oct
16

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Samhain’s Darkest Horse

halloween-3-poster-list-matt-ryan-tobin

created by Matt Ryan Tobin

 

“I do love a good joke and this is the best ever, a joke on the children.” – Conal Cochran, Halloween III: Season of the Witch

a Primal Root written review

If you know me int he slightest, it’s not a secret by any means, I am enormous fan and champion of the misfit third entry in the long running Halloween horror franchise began by John Carpenter and Debra Hill way back in 1978 with the original Halloween. The exploits of escaped mental patient Michael Myers aka: The Shape (Nick Castle), his considerably psychotic child therapist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), and the blossoming young virgin babysitter, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) came to a close with a fiery explosion at the end of Halloween II. Michael was engulfed in flames that were sure to turn anyone made of flesh and blood to nothing more than a hand full of ash, and CERTAINLY must have killed that goofy nutbag Dr. Loomis who flicked the Bic that blew the explosive gas ward of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital sky high…leaving Laurie Strode alone in an ambulance pondering the terribly contrived and problematic twist that Michael Myers was actually her brother all along, which totally negates the random nature of the horror in the original Halloween and reminds you that if you make sure you know your biological family tree and keep dibs on all the blood thirsty, unkillable maniacs, you can avoid this sort of predicament and spare your friends every Halloween night.

Halloween II would have been a pretty fine conclusion to the story of Haddonfield and it’s brotherly Boogerman, if the original film hadn’t had a far more suitable and deeply unnerving conclusion already, so where was the Halloween franchise to go from it’s 1981 sequel? Would John Carpenter and Debra Hill venture to make another lazy, dull, predictable story about the now totally cremated and burned to smithereens masked madman Michael Myers? Well, if you are familiar with these two remarkably creative, innovative and fearless individuals, you know that this is exactly the road they’re not going to travel. In fact, their decision would go on to become the stuff of legend. The third installment in the Halloween franchise would be a massive departure from the story of Michael Myers and would, instead, tell a brand new, original story based around the holiday of the title, Halloween. It part of an incredibly commercial and brilliant concept of Carpenter and Hill that would make the Halloween franchise a yearly canvas for an infinite number of creative minds and filmmakers to create their own, unique, one off Halloween stories that could birth any number of spinoffs, sequels, remakes, reboots and reimaginings down the road! One paper it sounds like a wonderfully viable and lucrative concept, one that would keep the franchise running strong for decades to come! Debra Hill came up with the basic concept of the story, “witchcraft meets the computer age.” The team contacted Nigel Kneal (writer of the The Quatermass series) who wrote the first draft of the screenplay of what would become Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 

halloiii-07_zps0bb3c676

Our film begins with the creation of a digital jack-o-lantern set the dark, ominous tones of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s fantastic score. Long gone is the iconic Halloween theme that immediately puts audiences on edge. Here, the score is menacing, low, and mysterious. The audience accustomed to the simple stalk and slash formula of the previous entries are clued in right off the bat that there is something different at work here. The jack-o-lantern is no longer something physical we’ve all held, touched and carved before. No, this is something alien and untouchable. As the credits conclude, the computer generated grinning jack-o-lantern begins to flash over white as an audible buzzing is heard. It’s strange, off putting and the significance of this is a totally mystery to us… for now.

The story centers on Dr. Challis (legendary cult icon, Tom Atkins), a flawed, damaged gentleman who is not by any stretch of the imagination your typical hero. This guy is divorced with two kids, a womanizer and, from what it would seem, a functional alcoholic.  At every turn the man is sexually harassing his staff (or, I guess it would just be called flirting in the early 1980’s) of knocking back beer or bourbon. Even when visiting his ex-wife she mentions, as his pager goes off to call him to the hospital, “drinking and doctoring: GREAT combination.” She hasn’t witnessed this man drinking, he just showed up smelling like booze. Yeah, this guy is our hero, ladies and gents!

h3challis

Womanizer. Drunkard. Hero.

Challis arrives at the hospital to care for a man in hysterics who is clutching a popular Silver Shamrock Halloween mask and babbling what seems to be nonsense about “They’re going to kill us! All of us!” Challis sedates the man, puts him in a room, slaps the nurses ass and goes to sleep it off in the doctor’s lounge leaving the poor old guy all alone so minutes later a silent man in a three piece suit can just wonder into his room and dismantle his skull bare handed. When Challis is woken up by the nurses cries over the patients sudden case of collapsed skull, he gives chase, but it’s too late. The silent killer has doused himself in gasoline and blown himself up in his car. Challis looks on with a face that clearly expresses and slightly hungover “What the fuck?” The audience feels his pain.

The murdered man’s daughter, Ellie (the gorgeous Stacey Nelkin) shows up to claim the body and the local authorities try to comfort her by claiming it was just a random psychopath who walked in off the streets and single handidly crunched her father’s head into bloody, flappy chunks. The next day she track Dr. Challis down early in the morning at a local bar and enlists his help to figure out just who wanted her Father dead and why. Dr. Challis, who can never say no to a free booty call, grabs a sixer of Miller High Life, calls his ex-wife to back out of his obligations and heads off the Santa Mira, home of Silver Shamrock Novelties, the town her Father was last seen headed before he became a babbling lunatic with a warrant out for his noggin.

halloween_crimson_quill-15

What Dr. Challis and Ellie uncover between swigs of bourbon and all night fuck sessions, is a vast, deadly, evil conspiracy, one that has been conjured up over hundreds of years and will bring the world to it’s knees as horrifically grotesque sacrifice is made. As the mastermind behind this horrifying plan suggests, “The World is going to change tonight.” And if this evil madman’s scheme does pull through, the world will be transformed forever…

***SPOILERS AHEAD! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!****

halloween-iii_season-of-the-witch_silver-shamrock-masks

Okay, so it turns out the guy who runs Silver Shamrock novelties, Conal Cochran (played with enthusiasm and cheerful menace by the late, great, Dan O’Herlihy) is a druid and a warlock with a massive army of murderous robot people. He also has stolen a block from stonehenge and is chipping off pieces of the missing block to add just a fragment of the stone into the Silver Shamrock Halloween masks along with a small computer chip. What is the importance of all this? Why is Mr. Cochran willing to murder people in order to ensure these masks are made and are the hottest Halloween masks on the market?  What is the deal with the big giveaway happening Halloween night where all the children must watch their TV’s while wearing their Silver Shamrock masks in order to win? Because it’s all part of a grand scale child sacrifice. That’s right, when the big giveaway happens, those wearing the Silver shamrock Halloween masks will be subjected to a blinking jack-o-lantern. This image in conjunction with the piece from stonehenge will end up melting the head of the child wearing  mask and produce copious amounts of roaches, spiders, and venomous snakes.

ff562f_f3cfc3d531333dae744e67db1cac456a

Yes, this plan is totally fucking bonkers. Evil always works best when it’s bonkers, if you ask me. It;s so bizarre, so downright disturbing and nightmarish, it totally devastated me when I was a kid watching Halloween III: Season of the Witch for the first time. In the typical language of cinema, the kid never dies. Then you see Halloween III: Season of the Witch, you do not only get to witness a little kid get his head melted, but you watch as he, still living, chokes up rattle snakes, roaches and and tarantulas before his horrified parents eyes. I honestly watched the scene much like Dr. Challis does as he watches through a monitor in Cochran’s secret warehouse. You cannot believe what you’re seeing. It;s so dark and weird and macabre and unflinchingly grim…it then dawns on you that in matter of hours this is going to happen everywhere. In every living room all over the world. I know a lot of people bring up that THE BIG GIVEAWAY is at 9pm and that the movie didn’t account for time zones. Ugghh, I am sure the time zones are adjusted and that the filmmakers just didn’t want to make it monotonous by listing ALL THE DIFFERENT TIME ZONES all of the world.  Anyhoo, it’s a nightmare to imagine as kids die a prolonged, agonizing, supernatural death and their poor parents then get attacked by the living, nasty contents of their now melted spawns cranium. I can’t help but imagine what this little practical joke will do to the economic thrust of the holiday season. Shit. Little Buddy’s head is gone, I guess we can return that Atari to Toys R’ Us…

hall3blu_shot8nl

Also, I must address the Ellie controversy. A lot of people wonder if she was  robot all along or not. My theory is that Ellie was a real, flesh and blood human being through the whole movie until she is captured by Cochran and used to lure Dr. Challis to the Silver Shamrock Factory. Cochran had a crude robot duplicate of her made, Dr. Challis rescues that robot,and Ellie is left to burn alive in the Silver Shamrock explosion. Yeah, my theory is dark, bleak and assumes the female lead suffers a brutal death by burning all alone in the bowels of mad toy maker’s factory, but to me that is the appeal of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Our hero is inept, saves no one, including his own children and the world witnesses the absolute terror that Conal Cochran has unleashed upon the world. The film ends with Tom Atkins, Dr. Challis, screaming into the phone as the Silver shamrock jack-o-lantern flashes on the screen, “STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IIIIIIIITTTT!” And the credits roll. He doesn’t win. We are left to imagine the outcome of this gruesome terrorist attack. To this day, the ending of Halloween III: Season of the Witch sends chills down my spine. If you think about it, that ending could symbolize the corporate take over of America. Our youth poisoned by what they are fed day in and day out through all forms of media until their heads rot and the same nasty, mean, venomous shit comes pouring from their mouths. Fuck…could Atkins have been trying to warn us all long? Did the evil that occurred at the end of Halloween III: Season of the Witch already occur? I take a glimpse from time to time and see what comes spewing into my living room through cable television and it’s not hard to imagine that the kind of televised consumer apocalypse may have already happened.

halloween3pic2

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a the underdog of the entire franchise. History speaks for itself. The movie bombed horribly due to the fact it was critically panned and the fans wanted more of the same, which they got a few years later in the hideously underwhelming Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, which I do enjoy, it’s just a really, really, cheap, poorly shot, and not very entertaining or inspired movie.

To be be perfectly honest, I couldn’t stand Halloween III: Season of the Witch when I first saw it as a child. It was too dark, too mean and there was no Michael Myers!I was right there with the folks who were disappointed in the lack of familiar elements.  However, time has been very kind to Halloween III: Season of the Witch, it has grown into a sort of cult favorite among horror movie aficionados. After watching the same Michael Myers bullshit over and over and over I began to go back to Halloween III: Season of the Witch just to remind myself why I didn’t like it. Just like many of my horror brethren, I think many of us found what we initially presumed to be the film’s weaknesses to actually be this movie’s greatest strengths. Folks like myself who revel in the third installments stand alone story, bizarre gore effects, disturbing mystery, incredible fresh and creepy score, nightmarish concepts and and damn fine performances. It’s the last of the high quality, well shot and intriguing Halloween films and possibly my favorite of the entire series, including John Carpenter’s original, which I have tremendous respect for…but Halloween III: Season of the Witch is such a one of kind masterpiece of the macabre, I look forward to watching it every single Halloween season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Myers and the original Halloween just fine, but like I said earlier, I always like my evil to be a bit more fucking bonkers side of things.

halloweeniii-poster-cavitycolors-e1403904744314

created by Cavity Colors

Every October I watch as people create more and more original art based on Halloween III: Season of the Witch as it’s cult status and admiration grows. I’m not going to lie, it brings a salty tear to this Trash Cinema fans eye every year as I watch what was once the laughing stock and whipping boy of the Halloween franchise become more and more the stand out and most beguiling dark corner of the whole series.

I award Halloween III: Season of the Witch 5 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets.

 

 

01
Oct
14

Ravenous (1999)

ravenous

a Rebecca Keel review

I had the pleasure of seeing ‘Ravenous’ for the first time recently.  This 1999 slow-burn horror film starring Guy Pearce,  Robert Carlyle,  and David Arquette surprised me in a lot of ways.  I didn’t know much about the film when I sat down to watch it;  I’d seen it recommended here and there on the Internet,  and I had a vague idea that it was about cannibalism,  but beyond that,  the whole thing was an impressive surprise.  The general consensus seems to be that it’s never gotten the attention it deserves,  and while I definitely agree with that,  it seems like its own quirkiness has been instrumental in keeping it a well-kept secret from the mainstream horror scene.

Cinematically,  ‘Ravenous’ represents the collision of several elements which don’t typically walk around holding hands.  Its pacing,  character development style,  and quite a lot of its cinematographic choices feel more like a classic Western than a modern horror film,  and apparently I was far from the first to make this connection (Jacob Knight over at nerdbastards.com highlights the role of elements from the Western genre as being fundamental to the film:  http://nerdbastards.com/2014/06/03/retro-review-ravenous-is-an-even-better-western-than-it-is-a-horror-film/ ).  It’s also filmed in a retrospective style that often makes it easy to forget that it came out the same year as ‘The Matrix’.  This combination of Western genre film construction and old-fashioned filming style successfully tricked my brain into repeatedly thinking I was watching a film much older than this one actually is.  Meanwhile,  the gore and makeup effects have an offhand realism that reminds me of sweeping,  dramatic war films. The kind of horror story it presents is in tune with the film’s style:  it’s constructed with fairly limited plot twists and instead of relying on cheap startle techniques,  it tells a thoughtful tale which stayed with me long after I watched it,  enticing my mind to play with the sharp edges of its implications.

ravenous1

The film’s setting was quite unusual as well.  The Mexican-American War,  which went down during the mid-1800s before the outbreak of the American Civil War,  is far from a typical time period setting for any genre of film,  and it seems even more bizarre as the backdrop for a horror flick.  Yet the film’s writer,  Ted Griffin,  and its director,  Antonia Bird,  made good use of the features of the setting to generate genuine feelings of isolation and desperation which sometimes feel forced in horror films set in the Information Age.  Utilizing Native American culture and legends gave the story an air of authenticity that was hard to dispel and made for convincing storytelling of a caliber I typically only associate with a few horror novelists (such as Dan Simmons,  whose historical-fiction horror is some of the best in the field).

Yet it’s easy to see how fans of mainstream horror could lose interest in an artistic film like ‘Ravenous’.  The film’s  score is at times grating,  though the effect seems intentional and helps drive home the events playing out on-screen,  while at other times idyllic background music which seems like it would be more at home in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ has a jarring effect when taken alongside the foreshadowed events and the horrors that have already taken place.  Such decisions can alienate viewers who prefer and expect a more conventional film score,  though this technique is increasing in popularity (or at least acceptance) among mainstream viewers.  The pacing of the plot’s revelations requires patience fans of films like ‘Saw’ and ‘The Grudge’ aren’t always willing to grant a film,  and the lack of monster makeup might make it hard for some to swallow a film that is,  frankly,  set up to be a type monster movie.  But for fans of old-fashioned horror,  ‘Ravenous’ has a lot to offer.  Many elements of the film would feel at home in a story by Lovecraft,  Matheson,  or Poe.  And the film’s unabashed frankness and realism in the face of the supernatural leaves me hovering in that delicate space between belief and disbelief which is the hardest form of terror to shake off.

25
Aug
13

You’re Next (2011) Warm Blood & Rich People…plus a short essay on slasher cinema history

you're next poster

a Primal Root written review

The late 60’s  through the 1970’s were the golden years for American horror cinema. Not only were young, truly talented filmmakers delivering inspired pieces of art, they gave cinema indispensable time capsules of the days troubled times and the lasting, horrifying impact of our actions on not only the inhabitants of our nation, but the world. films such as Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left”, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and many others illustrated , the brutality both at home and abroad as peaceful protesters were gunned down by our National Guard in cold blood, blacks in our country were beaten and murdered by our police officials, our brothers, sons,  husbands and Fathers were being drafted to serve in a wildly unpopular war and the hippie movement had given way to disillusionment in the wake of Charles Manson and Free Love regrettably spread venereal disease like wild fire through the loins of our nation.  Independent horror cinema had never been more vital, more important in our country as it was during this era.  Horror was the purest illustration, the unfettered subconscious, of our society.

Soon the 1980’s were ushered in and movies such as “Halloween” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, which had proven incredibly profitable, gave way to a sub-genre known as the “slasher” genre, which gained a foothold in this decade and squeezed as much blood out of the concept as  possible. John Carpenter’s Halloween became a franchise, Sean Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th” spawned a series of films repeating the same formula for over 20 years, and Wes Craven delivered a trail blazing, brilliant, post Vietnam horror film in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, but it was soon watered down into a franchisable commodity.  Slasher horror films became a staple of the decade as they proved to be resoundingly profitable for studios, and sequels that regurgitated the story on repeat could be relied upon to turn a profit. It was fun while it lasted, and some pretty damn great slasher films were produced during the decade, but   gradually, a form of horror that had once shown us how fucked up our system was, had been yuppified and sold out. The films became less of a societal rorshach test, and more like a series of Saturday morning cartoon adventure. Hell, it was the 1980’s in a capitalist country! As George “Buck” Flowers said in John Carpenter’s 1988 science fiction masterpiece, “They Live”, “We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team!”

But by the end of 80’s the slasher formula had grown as stale as a year old box of opened and then forgotten about croutons in the pantry, and by 1990, many folks deemed the sub-genre dead.

BUT THEN CAME POST-MODERN SLASHERS!  Ushered in by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and to a much greater extent, his “Scream” franchise, which replaced the usual gang of teenagers ready for the chop, with teenage characters who have been raised in the VHS generation and are completely aware of the slasher formula, it’s cliches and it’s caveats and are loaded up and ready with quips, jokes and references to horror movies history!  The resurrection of the slasher genre was given life thanks to the ever increasing knowledge and awareness of the audience who had spent their youths combing through video rental stores and boning up on their horror movie knowledge.  Two decades earlier, it was Leatherface in Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” who had been savaging the cinema while wearing the remains of his victims. Now, in the 1990’s, the filmmakers were the one’s wearing the remains of the genre’s past and exploiting it as a joke and laughing at the power these movies once, and to the viewer willing to watch without a jaded eye, still contain.

But, there are only so many in-jokes you can make about the genre before Post Modern gives way to straight up spoofs like the Wayans Brother’s brain dead “Scary Movie” franchise.  Oh, what has post modern horror wrought?

In the mid 2000’s, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the War in Iraq marched on with seemingly no plan and no end in sight under the George W. Bush administration, the slasher genre got a heavy, dark, deeply mean spirited and cynical makeover in the form of James Wan’s “Saw” franchise, Now audiences were thrust into morality games where victims and victimizers alike were suddenly forced to endure and try to survive brutal and disturbingly painful forms of grueling torture in order to survive and are expected to walk away having learned some kind of life affirming message. Assumign they survive at all. (Spoiler: most folks end up splattered across the linoleum.)  Also, taking hold in this decade, was a sudden popularity in remakes. Classic horror films like Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” were open game for modern retelling and face lifts. These proved successful as money making ventures since the titles were already well established and could be relied on to turn a profit, but many folks took this as a sign that “Hollywood” had, indeed, run out of ideas and that set of balls they once relied on to give up and coming filmmakers a chance at showcasing original product, had now finally been cut cleen and tossed int he waste basket. The studio now only seemed interested in “sure things.”  Young filmmakers who came of age during the slasher heydays were now creating their own slasher movies…but more times than not, for cynical laughs and nastiness rather than genuine scares or fun.

With the exception of a few sporadic, slasher films produced independently, with varying degrees of success, the blood in the veins of a once extremely popular genre has been cooling down and slowing to a coagulated halt as it’s once thriving body withers up and passed away. Them’s the brakes.  I had very little hope in ever seeing a slasher film worth a piss again on the big screen.

Death Zoo 2000

Death Zoo 2000

And then I saw “You’re Next”.

A kind of home invasion slasher film that’s done the impossible and taken a tired formula, one that’s been played to death, and made it feel fun, interesting and new again. Honestly, I haven’t had this much fun watching a slasher film in…well…YEARS! I know there’s been quite a bit of hype surrounding this flick over the last couple years since it’s premiere in 2011, and although I do feel the praise this thing has gotten is, indeed, a bit overblown, “You’re Next” does a dandy of a job showing it’s audience a good time.

The premise comes across as fairly standard. A very wealthy family reunites for a weekend at their secluded mansion in the middle of winter. It;s cold, it’s snowy, and if a band of crossbow shooting, axe wielding maniacs happen upon their house, they are more or less trapped and/or completely fucked.    One thing I greatly appreciate about “You’re Next’ is that the family and other assorted characters are written as actual human beings, characters and players in the drama at hand rather than just jokes and punch lines ready to be cashed in.  Sure, some situations come off as comical, but never because the characters are anything more than flawed, damaged and mistake making human beings. Things are tense before any psychopaths even show up! Hell, I haven;t seen a dinner scene this tense and uncomfortable since The Sawyer clan sat down to dinner in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” (No, Tobe Hooper’s not paying me to drop that title as many times as possible in this review) The family dynamic feels like a bomb just waiting to go off as it seems some siblings cannot be near one another for more than five seconds without anger and resentment rising and an argument breaking out.  One cannot help but feel bad for Erin (Sharni Vinson) who is there to meet and spend some quality time getting to know her boyfriend Crispan’s (AJ Bowen) family.

Things go from awkward to “Aw, fuck” as family dinner is violently interrupted and suddenly everyone is scrambling to survive. To the amazed wonderment of the family, Erin seems to have the survival instincts of a wild cat and, once the rich families plans are all proven to be disastrously moot, takes control of the situation and ends up being on the the very best, if not the quintessential Final Girl.   Rarely in the slasher genre have I ever witness a final girl so aptly and efficiently tackle with her antagonists.  She turns her aggressors into bumbling idiots over the course of the film and it drew much appropriate applause form myself and the rest of the audience.  This is no screaming, lame-o final girl running around in her panties and hoping to fight the killer to a draw. no, Erin is out for blood and she’s honestly one of the greatest assets “You’re Next” has.  Many folks have labeled “you;re Next” a “feminist” horror film.  Hell, I thought most horror films, especially slashers, featured strong female protagonists besting and hulking male antagonist. By definition, isn’t the majority of slasher films feminist?

What a woman will go through for a decent boyfriend.

What a woman will go through for a decent boyfriend.

But, I digress, “You’re Next” also delivers some excellently executed gore set pieces that seem to escalate as the films closes in on it’s graphically violent, over the top conclusion.  People meet their end in brutal, uncompromising fashions at the end of axes, arrows, knives, screwdrivers and countless assorted implements of destruction and kitchen accoutrement.  Those looking for and carnage candy will not leave disappointed.  Another thing I was impressed with was the film;s dark, yet fitting, sense of humor. Unlike other recent slasher films that slowly devolve into “Not Another Teen Slasher Film” over the top, slapstick gore and gags (Hatchet & Hatchet II, I’m looking at you.) or post modern slashers that draw laughs from our knowledge of horror film history,  “You’re Next” keeps things serious and to the point, but manages to draw comedy from it’s bloody situations. The jokes are dark, but the levity is appreciated and doesn’t feel out of place.

On the negative side, once the shit hits the proverbial fan,  “You’re Next” invokes some of the most annoying shaky cam I’ve ever endured. I;m not exactly sure if I got used to it after it’s initial use or if the filmmakers decided it was only necessary for this one moment of panic, but my God, it was distracting and pointless. The actors were doing a fine enough job portraying their shock and horror at what was occurring, the last thing we needed was some guy shaking the camera around like he’s being mauled by a grizzly bear during the shoot.  Seriously, have some faith in your on screen talent. I wanted to watch their performances and not gain a migraine headache for my efforts. Also, sadly, the central question underlying the whole flick is pretty easy to figure out. Boots and I knew what was up as soon as arrows began flying. But, in the end, this didnt diminish my enjoyment of the film at all.

meow.

meow.

Any other gripes? Not really. “You’re Next” is a shockingly solid piece of slasher entertainment in a genre I thought had been bled totally dry by 80’s over exposure, 90’s postmodernism, and new millennial remake dookie splatter.  It was treat being able to watch a fun, TRULY old school style slasher film with an appreciative, loud, and lively audience just as into it as myself and Bootsie Kidd were. Not nearly as revolutionary as many critics and supporters have hyped it up to be, “You’re Next” is still one of the very best times I’ve had seeing a down and dirty slasher flick in ages. It has a keen awareness of the genre itself  which allows the filmmakers a chance to play around with our expectations, passes itself well, contains serviceable performances and has one very cool throwback synth driven score. Almost sounds like John Carpenter himself could have done the music for this sucker.

This is not the second coming, but it is proof that you can play with slasher formula without turning it all into some masturbatory joke. “You’re Next” has given me a smidgen of hope for a long flailing sub genre of horror and I am hoping filmmakers interested in working within it take note of what “You;re Next” has done right. Because there are few roller coaster rides as fun as a fun, well executed slasher film with the right audience. I only wish I got to take the ride more often.

If you’ve ever held even a drop of affection for the slasher genre in your horror nerd heart, you owe it to yourself to see “You’re Next.”

4 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy!

-Root

31
Oct
10

Towards a Personal Theory (and Defense) of Horror (Part One)

an essay by Jessica Critten

So I had this professor who would always scoff when I discussed horror in the same breath as great literature and art. He thought, as so many people often do, that horror is low art for braindead, sick people and that any connections I found between, say, books about Nazism and horror theory, were a stretch. Frankly, I’m tired of having to defend my area of academic study, but I wanted this guy–who I liked, otherwise–to understand not only what horror really means, but what it means to me. We could write our papers about anything we wanted, (and he was also fine with our going on tangents which is why this paper is kinda all over the place) so I wrote this. It is sort of my horror manifesto–My definition of horror, my ideas about why people enjoy it, and my take on how and why it is regarded in the larger culture. I’m drawing a lot from cultural and critical theory, because it’s my fav, and fundamental to a deeper understanding of the genre as a tool to understand society, and ourselves.

Sleep of Reason by Francisco de Goya

“We make up horrors to help us deal with real ones”-Stephen King

‘Horror’ is a notoriously difficult genre to define, because, in general, what is considered horrific is subjective. The definition of horror is also fundamentally tied to the question at the heart of horror theory and criticism: Why do people enjoy being scared, disgusted, horrified? Various academics have attempted to answer that question, and to various degrees of success. I will trace many of these efforts to answer the question of horrific appeal as a means to approach my own subjective theory about the meaning of horror and its overwhelming popularity.  This theory, although applicable to all horror texts—however they may be defined by the consumer—will use the horror film specifically as its subject, owing to the aforementioned popularity of the genre in this medium and the controversial nature of moving, visual representations of horrific subject matter.

This study is admittedly limited; for one, it does not utilize the proposed framework or theories to even begin an effort to determine quality. As with any genre some films are more thoughtful and powerful than others, but measurements of value are in themselves subjective and dependant on any number of personal markers. Also, it does not fully interrogate the ontological implications of the monster as ‘other’; that is, how does the monster, who embodies everything that we are not, relate to our understanding of ourselves? I’ve also skipped over examining in detail many of the proposed theories in practice in favor of presenting a more general overview of the genre. This general overview has also required that I leave out other compelling theories of horrific appeal like Torben Grodal’s which states that instead of breaking down order, horror films have the effect for audiences of actually giving them a sense of order and control in their own lives in comparison to the lives (and deaths) of the characters in the film.

I am going to approach this project by using critical horror theory to answer the questions what is horror, what does horror do, and why do people enjoy it? Much of the critical literature on horror skips over the fundamental question of what horror actually is, and goes straight into what horror does.[1] It may seem as though I’m stuck in semantics here—isn’t horror, after all, the things it does?—but establishing a working definition for ‘horror’ is necessary to establish a relatively standard criteria by which one can identify horror texts. Once something is generally determined to be a horror text, one can analyze it as such and begin to interpret what it does; that is, what are the psychological, cultural, social, political, physical processes with which it is engaged, and to what effect? From there, one can continue on to determine the appeal of the horror text (in this case, the horror film.)

In one of the seminal books on horror, The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart, author Noel Carroll defines horror as that which elicits the emotional state of “art-horror.” Art-horror is to be understood as something decidedly different from the ‘natural’ horror that one may feel in real life, at ecological disasters or Nazism in World War II. As the name suggests, art-horror is the emotion elicited from a piece of art, differentiated from the horrors of real life because of the distance that art-horror has from the immediacy of real life, ‘natural’ horrific events. That is, if one was being beaten in real life, he or she would not have the time to step back and reflect on the horror of that experience. Art-horror not only allows for, but insists upon that reflection: “…the genre of horror takes its title from the emotion it characteristically or ideally promotes; this emotion constitutes the identifying mark of horror” (14). Carroll also discusses the urge to correlate horror with the appearance of a monster figure. He problematizes this assertion by arguing that although all horror films have monsters, not all monsters signify horror; fairy tales and science fiction texts contain monsters as well, but Carroll does not consider those texts as horror because they are not necessarily intended to evoke art-horror.

The most compelling aspect of Carroll’s definition, and the part from which I will begin to build my own understanding of the genre, is the basis of it: horror is such because it elicits a horrific response from the audience. Admittedly, in this state, this definition is not an especially sophisticated one; after all, the same basic thing could be said about any genre. But that is ultimately my point: any text can be a horror text if one experiences the state of art-horror while consuming it. Carroll gets extremely specific about what he does and does not consider a horror film; for one, the horror movie has to contain a monster borne of some kind of fantastical element, one that could not necessarily exist in real life. This excludes films otherwise thought of as horror, including ones that surround a strange and troubling event (as opposed to a disrupting monster) or films like Cujo or Silence of the Lambs which feature people and animals doing seemingly horrible things (and, arguably, eliciting horrific responses) but are not unexplainable creatures. This construction of the genre speaks to the theory of horrific appeal that he develops later in the book,[2] but is, in my opinion, much too restrictive. Carroll himself notes that the extent to which he develops his definition could be too limiting for some readers, “…but a theory such as the one proposed…may still enhance our grasp not only of horror itself, but also of its contesting neighbors” (Carroll 38).  His point is well taken, and at the heart of the importance of defining the genre in the first place.


[1] Many of the critical texts, save Carroll’s (see below), may offer passing, one-sentence definitions of horror, which can be accounted for by the critic’s general attitude towards the genre: the casual, or unappreciative reviewer could find the definition as self-evident—I know it when I see it; the more focused, sympathetic critic would acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of trying to define with certainly any genre, much less one so engaged with intense ontological and social issues.

[2] Carroll argues, and persuasively, that the horrific subject matter in horror films is incidental to the viewer’s need to see his or her curiosity about the monster figure satisfied. In other words, the draw of the horror film is similar to the draw of the mystery novel: discovery. The monster falls outside of our ideas about how the world works, so we want to see the monster conquered, and the status quo returned. I actually think fairly highly of parts of this theory, but I can’t really entertain it as a whole because it basically discounts any ontological, social, cultural, or political perspectives.






Dumpster Diving

Categories