31 October 2012

halloween film fest: afterword

Well, that's it... The Obscene Chewing Halloween Film Fest is officially over. I've thrown the machete in the dishwasher and scared away all the evil spirits by singing Jewel's 'Foolish Games' in the shower (with heartfelt emotion, natch). We've weathered the best and the worst of the genre together—from window-shopping zombies to killer mongooses and back again. While I enjoyed the experience—for the most part, anyway—I'll be happy to watch a few films in the upcoming days without decapitations or Donald Pleasence. 

Here are my ratings of the films I've watched (out of five possible stars). Please note: These ratings reflect my opinion of the films' artistic merit, and not my personal affections for them—which is why Halloween only gets four stars even though it's probably my favorite horror film. 

1. Children of the Corn (1984)  ½
2. Poltergeist (1982)  
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)  
4. The Omen (1976)  
5. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)  ½
6. Nosferatu (1922)  
7. Prince of Darkness (1987)  
8. Sint (2010)  
9. Sheitan (2006)  
10. Phantasm (1978)  ½
11. Raw Meat (1972)  
12. Hour of the Wolf (1968)  
13. Dracula (1931)  
14. Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974)  ½
15. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)  ½
16. Waxwork (1988)  
17. Nightbreed (1990)  ½
18. Lord of Illusions (1995)  ½
19. Return of the Living Dead (1985)  
20. The Premature Burial (1962)  
21. Psycho (1998)  
22. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)  
23. Pet Sematary (1989)  ½
24. Dawn of the Dead (1978)  
25. Land of the Dead (2005)  ½
26. Rosemary's Baby (1968)  ½
27. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)  ½
28. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)  ½
29. The Innkeepers (2011)  ½  
30. Young Frankenstein (1974)  
31. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)  ½
32. Let the Right One In (2008)  ½
33. The Wolf Man (1944)  
34. Audition (1999)  ½
35. Carrie (1976)  ½
36. Bloody Birthday (1981)  
37. Friday the 13th (1980)  
38. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)  ½
39. Repulsion (1965)  
40. The Mummy (1932)  ½
41. Scream (1996)  ½
42. SSSSSSS (1973)  ½
43. Cabin Fever (2002)  
44. Saw (2004)  
45. The Exorcist (1973)  ½
46. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)  
47. The Shining (1980)  ½
48. Halloween (1978)  

truth, revealed.

48. Halloween (1978)

Yeah. What exactly did you think the culminating film of the Halloween Film Fest would be? Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot? This blog is named for a line in John Carpenter's Halloween, so it should come as a surprise to no one that this is my go-to Halloween film—ever since I was a kid, in fact. It now transcends mere entertainment and has become a seasonal ritual—and if you don't happen to care for this movie, I have a few things I'd like to say to you. First of all, your taste is wrong. Don't give me any of your liberal relativist propaganda about everyone being entitled to an opinion... This is the kind of wrongheaded namby-pamby egalitarianism that starts with a person declaring his favorite jelly bean flavor and ends with Jews being marched into crematoriums in Nazi Germany. And before you start with your rationalist-based arguments that I am wrong here, I want you to remember that if you believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion, then you can't argue with good conscience that I'm not entitled to the opinion that you're not entitled to an opinion. I don't mean to sound totalitarian or anything, but I firmly believe that individuals who have shown themselves unable to form a competent opinion should have all of their opinions vetted by an enlightened council, to be chaired by yours truly. I think the competency of opinion-making will be determined by a standardized test of some kind, and the first question will be about country music. If you profess to enjoy it, you will lose your opinion privileges until your opinion has optimized in a Regional Cognitive Recalibration Center (RCRC).

Another thing I want to say to Halloween detractors is that the film is objectively awesome—which means it's not even subject to opinions. Do you have an 'opinion' that the sky is up? I don't think so. It's just a fact that is true by definition. It's the same way with Halloween. I hate to tell you what they do to people who start denying the basic facts of the natural world... but I will anyway: they either lock them in asylums or they make them become Republicans so that the rest of us can identify them for our own safety. 

And now, a third thing I have to say to these people who have defective opinions and who willfully deny facts: Halloween is a part of me. If you start talking shit about this film, you are talking shit about me personally. The metaphysical border where my individuality ends and the movie Halloween begins doesn't really exist. We have blended together into an inseparable composite of subject and affect. You can't throw stones at a specific aspect of me; a thrown stone that touches my person in any way is an injury against the whole of me. Now I don't want my blog to start writing checks that my fists can't cash, but I dare any of you Halloween haters to step up on me. Bring what you got, bitches. I'll give you a titty-twister that'll have you preaching the Gospel According to Michael Myers like a giant crying baby-man. (You can run and tell that.)

Poor Donald Pleasence! As Dr. Loomis, he's the Cassandra of the Halloween saga. He never shuts the fuck up about how evil Michael Myers is. He actually literally refers to him as 'The Evil' in this movie—which most psychiatric journals tend to frown on, incidentally. He goes into that empty boardroom with the orange chairs and tells those two guys in labcoats that Michael should be kept locked up forever (because of his aforementioned evilness), but they're all, like, making cuckoo clock noises behind his back and stuff. As a consequence, Dr. Loomis actually has to go out on his own and start looking for Michael Myers. That's above and beyond the call of duty, if you ask me. I couldn't even get my therapist to answer my phone calls, let alone search the dark streets of Haddonfield for me. 

When I was young, I was always a little bored by Dr. Loomis's scenes, but now that I am older and more mature, I think I understand his plight a little better. His is the Sisyphean task of speaking the truth to those who either don't want to accept it or are unequipped to understand it. I feel this way all the time when I'm spouting off truth hither and thither and everyone's, like, 'Life isn't as bad as you always say it is, David! Why are you such a pessimist?' Well, trust me—one day (and it's not far off) when this world finally devolves into violent anarchy because too many Mary Poppins types were complacent about humanity's wretchedness, these same naysayers will be pounding on my door, crying out, 'Why didn't you warn us? Why didn't you warn us?' But I will be deaf to their protests... because I'll be locked in my underground panic room.

winter of our discontent.

47. The Shining (1980)

Apparently Stephen King didn't like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his dumb little novel. Well, boo-hoo. Were you upset that the movie didn't have topiary animals that come to life like your book did, Stevie? I guess maybe you should think twice before you cash in and option out your books. But—in case nobody told you—this is Stanley fucking Kubrick here. Yeah, I know you're used to having legendary top-tier directors like Fritz Kiersch, Fraser C. Heston, Lewis Teague, and Brett Leonard adapt your books for the screen, but I'm afraid sometimes you just have to suck it up and let hacks like Kubrick and De Palma have a go at your literary masterworks. True, they really can't hope to match the genius you displayed when you directed Maximum Overdrive, but once in awhile I think it's nice to throw a less competent director a few scraps from your table, you know?

Stephen King, you're an idiot. Kubrick's The Shining may or may not be a faithful adaptation of the novel you wrote—I don't really know because I haven't read it—but you have to admit the film is brilliant on its own terms. Even if it's not your book, it's a great film—and I'm willing to bet that Kubrick fixed at least a few problems in the original text. (See the reference to the topiary animals above.) 

Now on with the show... I'm not a Jack Nicholson fan in general. He kind of bugs me. You see, I'm really tired of the smarmy characters he plays in almost all of his films—and I suspect that they are mostly subtle variations of his own personality. He's one of those actors who's been treading water for so long that now he's arrived at a place in his career where he's almost a self-parody. Nevertheless, I can't imagine a better or more fitting actor to play the character of Jack Torrance in The Shining. Nicholson is able—with the arch of an eyebrow, a long meaningful glare, or just the tone of his voice—to convey such an overwhelming sense of menace that I can't imagine any actor equaling him here. This was, in other words, a role he was born to play.

When I think of Stanley Kubrick, I think of precision. In most of his films, every detail seems so precise, so thoroughly considered and calculated, that it borders on OCD. I really don't know much about the man or his way of working, so maybe this is a false impression, but everything in The Shining—the sets, the furniture, the camera movement, the sound, the music, the composition—feels as though it is part of an indivisible, unified whole. That's unusual in filmmaking, I think. There are a few other directors who sometimes give me the same impression—Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles, for example—but never quite to the degree that Kubrick does. 

proof: old timey people were scarier.

Please keep in mind that all of the following people are surely dead now and their evil spirits live in your bedroom closet waiting for just the right moment to murder you. Maybe sometimes you catch a glimpse of them in a mirror, and then you turn around and there's nothing there. That's because they want to toy with your sorry ass for awhile before they lie down in bed next to you and wrap their cold, corpse-like fingers around your neck. You may be able to turn your head while you are being strangled to see the maniacally grinning face of your demonic attacker. He'll bare his teeth as his luminescent pupil-less eyes seem to bore into your very soul. He's been biding his time all these years—just observing you while you watch television, stuff your piggy face with high-fat foods, and fart on the sofa. He's been seething with a hatred for you that's so profound that you can feel it in the pressure of his bony fingers as he digs them into your neck. Those last moments of agony will seem to last a lifetime because they will contain every bit of loathing that the spirit has been storing up for you all these years—as he's been silently watching your retarded dumbfuck piece-of-shit life...

30 October 2012

the people of walmart.

46. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Remember the first film in the Halloween Film Fest? It was a piece of cinematic caca known as Children of the Corn. In the post for that film, I talked about how it was essentially giving expression to urban and semi-urban people's fear of rural (or 'backwoods') America.  Well, move the fuck over, corn shuckers, because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the holy grail of redneck horror films.  I believe that even though our rational minds might try to convince us that people like Leatherface and his charming family don't exist, most of us suspect that they do. This is America, after all. Most of us have been to WalMart at least a few times in our lives, so we're able to extrapolate the existence of a far worse variety of housebound inbred cannibals that can't quite make it to the superstore to satisfy their duct tape and razor wire needs. 

Before I talk about the only Texas Chainsaw Massacre that matters—the original 1974 version—I'd like to share with you a publicity photograph of the cast of the 2003 remake:

All I have to say in response to this douche lineup is: Fuck you, Hollywood. 

I could seriously see Hollywood remaking Schindler's List starring Shia Lebeouf and Jessica Alba and directed by Brett Ratner. It doesn't even matter that there's not a large enough role for a young woman to play in Schindler's List. They'd add the role of a hot, oversexed concentration camp victim who gives handjobs to Nazi officers for an extra helping of stale bread. In the scene where the guards make the skeletal Jews run around the camp naked, they'd include Jessica Alba, at her normal weight, her hair styled and freshly conditioned, her yearning lips dewy with pink lip gloss, and her bare bosoms bouncing in slow motion as sad choral music plays on the soundtrack. The only way you'd be able to distinguish the Concentration Camp Jessica Alba from the regular one is that Concentration Camp Jessica Alba will have one small, artful smudge of dirt on her face, accentuating her cheekbones. Of course, in this version, Schlindler (Shia) only helps the Jews in order to bang the woman he loves. 

But I digress. Big time. I really wanted to talk about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a pretty fantastic movie about a genetically defective family living in an isolated house somewhere in Texas. Of course, everyone knows Leatherface, the dim-witted masked butcher with love handles. I think one of the most anxiety-provoking sequences of the film is when Leatherface is chasing the last remaining survivor Sally through the woods in the dark of night. It's fortunate for Sally that Leatherface isn't at his fighting weight because she is afflicted with Female Horror Victim Syndrome, which causes the sufferer to fall repeatedly and to trip over basically any obstacle in their path—including twigs, feathers, pebbles, and small air pockets. 

Call me crazy, but there's something about a man running with a chainsaw that's just... disturbing. (OSHA would definitely not approve.) And I'd say that the appeal of Texas Chainsaw Massacre lies in how generally disturbing it is—especially the dinner scene during the last half hour at Leatherface's house. (Leatherface's house... that sounds odd to me. Who is making the mortgage payments?) It's not a film that has a lot of jumps and jolts; it's all about establishing this fucked-up world where absolutely any human perversion is suddenly very possible...

devil may care.

45. The Exorcist (1973)

My electricity went out yesterday evening, presumably because of the high winds we've been experiencing—which may or may not be related to hurricane Sandy—so I went to sleep early. There was really nothing else to do while sitting in my cold, dark house. Then I woke up in the middle of the night and the power was back on so I decided to soldier on with the Halloween Film Fest... After all, this is the home stretch! I have some of the best horror films scheduled for these last few days, and I won't let climatic conditions or sleeplessness stand in my way. I shudder to think that I wasted my time slogging through SSSSSSS and Bloody Birthday when I should have been watching the heavy hitters... like The Exorcist, for example.

There are few films that fill me with an overwhelming, claustrophobic sense of dread the way The Exorcist does, so maybe it wasn't the best idea to watch this in the middle of the night. I have to say that I also bring a lot of childhood baggage to each and every viewing of this film. As I've mentioned on this blog before, I attended Catholic school from first grade to senior year in high school, so I had lived my life in the long shadow, so to speak, of the demonic forces that take up tenancy in the body of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in the course of the movie. The nuns who taught grade school were particularly preoccupied with the more gothic aspects of their faith, and they spared no gruesome detail in their attempts to inspire a horror-movie-grade fear of Satan in their young, impressionable students. I especially remember the apocalyptic aspects of the visions at Fátima and the other apparitions of the Virgin Mary. They were straight out of The Omen. Sister Innocencia described—with all the gifts of a campfire storyteller, I might add—how the Virgin Mary opened a portal to hell so those (unfortunate) Portuguese children could see the agony and suffering that the underworld promised to the sinful. At that young age, I think I was already predestined for neurosis, so my direful imagination conjured up these scenes with painstaking detail before me. Bloody and burnt, the wretched—the eternally condemned—clamored for mercy—their bony fingers clawing into the earth, their skull-like faces shrieking in terror, their eyes wide as the world from which they were banished. Not a pretty picture, is it? And at the time, I completely believed in all of this. There was also the supposed 'secret of Fátima.' The Virgin Mary told one (or all?) of the kids something horrible, and they were only allowed to tell the Pope... and when the Pope heard what the child told him, he (allegedly) turned deathly-white and passed out. As you know, nothing infuriates a young child more than a secret—to say nothing of a secret that (likely) portends the apocalypse. Please also remember that this was a time when the specter of nuclear war still loomed large—and the nuns liked to foster an expectation of its imminence. At any minute, the red phone handset could be lifted and the buttons could be pushed. What did those motherfucking Fátima kids know about it? Tell me, you assholes! Tell me!

A rendering of the Vision of Hell at Fátima.

This is one of many, many examples of the horror films that the Catholic Church produced in my childhood mind. Later, there were the apparitions at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, during which the pilgrims saw the sun spin in the sky and seem to fall toward the earth—a sneak peek at the fiery death that awaits us all because we have ultimately failed.

As I said, I have a lot of baggage that I bring to Satan-related horror films. And it certainly didn't help that I chose the middle of the night to watch The Exorcist. To set the scene: My (television-viewing) sofa is just diagonal from two sliding glass doors that look out onto my narrow backyard, which is cut short by a dense wall of trees. There are two houses close by on either side, but you can't see any evidence of them when you're looking straight back out of the north-facing windows. There is no light in the backyard except for the residual light that comes from my house and dimly illuminates a few feet of my porch. I can confidently say that if any human being were to become visible in that yard during my viewing of The Exorcist, some EMTs would likely be scraping me off the living room ceiling right now. I mean, it could be an elderly neighbor out looking for her missing dog, and it wouldn't matter. I'd need to be institutionalized.

All of this is only to say that The Exorcist and The Exorcist III are the scariest movies I know of. The whole time I watch them, I am consumed with an intense dread that almost feels like it's closing in on me. It's something inescapable—even though that sounds ridiculous because I could simply turn off the movie or never watch it again—but I just can't help myself. I have to see it, and once I've started I can't stop. There are very few movies that genuinely disturb me. And The Exorcist is one of them.

29 October 2012

david shrigley.

game theory.

44. Saw (2004)

This is what I don't understand. How is it possible that the first Saw only came out eight years ago and they've already crapped out seven Saw films? I mean, Jeezus—these film studios hew pretty closely to the Strike While the Iron's Hot school of film production, don't they? I like to compare a profitable film franchise to a blowup doll that's been vigorously humped by a dogpile of paunchy, pinstriped studio execs until it's deflated, ripped to shreds, and soaked with melange of yellowing bodily fluids. When the doll is no longer recognizable as a doll (or ever having been one), they hit the pavement in their cum-splattered Bruno Maglis, with their noses to the wind—trying to sniff out the sickly-sweet musk of the next big thing.

But maybe I'm just too cynical. (Incidentally I think 'cynical' is just a derisive term invented by optimistic airheads to put the people who won't drink their Kool-Aid in their places.) But I'm not too cynical to realize that the original Saw shows a lot of promise and probably started out, innocently enough, with a small idea and a lot of enthusiasm from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. And it shows. In addition to scenes of provocative gore, Saw introduces a lot of compelling ideas—that could have actually been developed into a much deeper film—but Wan and Whannell choose to remain in the shallow end of the pool. They hint at the film's hidden psychological depths but never really set out to explore them. 

For those of you who haven't seen it—the film centers on a mostly-unseen psychopath known as 'the Jigsaw Killer' who sets up elaborate, usually gory games for his victims. As the film opens, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (the screenwriter Leigh Whannel) wake up to find themselves chained to pipes in a filthy, subterranean bathroom with a dead man lying on the floor between them. Lawrence and Adam don't (seem to) know each other and they have no idea how they got there. Soon, the Jigsaw Killer makes his 'appearance'—but only through cassette recordings—and gives them their instructions: Adam must try to escape the room—but Lawrence must kill Adam before 6:00 PM or his wife and daughter will be killed. Meanwhile, while this game plays out, an obsessed policeman on the outside (Danny Glover) tries to find the Jigsaw Killer before he claims more victims...

Yeah, I know. It's not exactly a revolutionary horror movie premise by any means—but if Saw chose to focus on the tough existential questions at the heart of Jigsaw's games, this could have been a psychologically intense film. It doesn't focus on these, however. It just kind of tosses them out there—as if hinting at them is enough—and, instead, spends way too much time on Danny Glover's fairly routine hunt for the killer and Lawrence and Adam's flashbacks. It's really strange how these two find themselves locked up and threatened with death, but they spend most of their time just sitting around trying to remember how they got there... and then—bam—all of a sudden it's almost 6:00 PM and they remember they gotta actually do something here. 

I'm not saying Saw isn't a decent horror film—because it is—but it's also frustrating how much potential is squandered here. This is the only Saw film I've ever seen, and based on the rule of diminishing returns that prevails with 99.9% of sequels, I don't foresee that changing any time soon. When the original is only pretty good, I don't have a helluva lot of hope for Saw VII.