With the mass-produced barrage of horror movies available to us – sometimes formulaic, sometimes cheaply made – it can be tempting for the jaded horror-goer to presume that nothing is truly scary anymore. I offer no new argument, after all, when I contend that in our increasingly sensationalized visual culture, we become (or at least risk becoming) desensitized to so many horrible things, immune to so much tragedy. It takes far more, at least from a visual standpoint, to scare us than it did sixty years ago (a fact that will be evident to anyone who compares The Haunting to an Eli Roth film). This may not be the case universally, but it’s a general rule. And still, scary movies are manufactured, and the passionate horror fan does encounter, every now and then, a film that is particularly, unexpectedly scary. Such was my experience with the film Sinister, released about two weeks before Halloween in 2012 (although I saw it much later ). Granted, Sinister is not as artistically scintillating as my two favorite horror movies of reference – The Shining and It Follows – but it’s still a well-made, incredibly unsettling film. When I told Michael I wanted to write a piece about it, he reassured me that he wouldn’t be upset if I re-watched it without him; one time was enough for him. So I sat down tonight, in my little Indiana apartment, with a focusing question in mind: What makes this film so scary? While I may discuss other things in the post below, I am particularly interested in exploring possible answers to this question. Continue reading “What Makes Sinister So Scary?”
While much of the world sits in judgement, furrowing its eyebrows at M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, it’s a film that’s near and dear to my heart. Significantly, I didn’t even realize that was the case until I embarked on a Shyamal-a-thon this week and revisited many of his films after years of separation. The Village, released in 2004, came out when I was a wayward sophomore in college. In stark contrast to popular opinion, I liked the film so much I bought a copy of the DVD (which I didn’t watch much after that). Despite my love of film and literature, my memory can be shoddy and I don’t always remember movies after I’ve seen them. The Village, however, lingered in my mind long after the initial viewing. As Michael and I watched it yesterday, I found myself able to predict almost every plot turn despite the time that’s lapsed since I last saw it. A film has to be good, at least in my eyes, for me to remember it that well. So I guess this piece is an attempt to defend the film – or to share why I like it – by pointing out the questions it raises, the tensions it explores, and why I think it’s so damn clever. As per usual with M. Night, his tricky surprise ending will be revealed to give me full range of discussion and analysis, so brace yourself for spoilers. Continue reading “It Takes a Village (to Lambast a Filmmaker)”
Michael and I have been talking lately about the phenomenon of hating. Of course, hate is prevalent in all sects of life, and more problematic in some sects than others. But when it comes to the arts, and films specifically, people love to hate. Witness the new female-driven Ghostbusters film: it’s brilliant and funny and original, but people get this weird high off slamming it on the internet. The same goes for the Star Wars prequels: any attempt to re-visit the highly successful plot of the first three films was certain to be met with some contempt, because our proclivity to love has an opposite proclivity to hate. And I think the same observation could be made with M. Night Shyamalan. Continue reading “Sensing Brilliance in the Sixth Sense”
I have a self-imposed challenge as an avid horror viewer: I must find an exorcism movie that truly terrifies me. Huddled with a group of giggling 12-year-olds when I was in seventh grade, I watched in near-disbelief while Regan spewed unthinkable profanity and did immodest things with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Assuredly, I was not old enough to watch the movie without being flung into a shock-provoked state of uncomfortable laughing fits (a twelve year old is hardly mature enough to take those scenes seriously), but something about that reaction seems significant when I reflect upon exorcism films almost 20 years later: Namely, the film was shocking, unorthodox, compelling – and indisputably ground-breaking for the era – but The Exorcist, along with, I think, every other exorcism film I’ve ever watched, has never really scared me. I find them interesting, and essential from the standpoint of someone who makes it a (humble, wage-less) second-living to know and review horror fare (albeit for a small number of readers), but for some reason I’ve always found ghosts a lot scarier. Don’t get me wrong: conceptually, the devil is terrifying (to the extent that I believe he exists, at least), but films rarely do justice to the horror of the demonic. The Vatican Tapes, a fairly average film, was no exception to this trend. If you like exorcism movies, it may be worth seeing, at least for comparative purposes. But, there was a small, hopeful part of me thought I might feel afraid during The Vatican Tapes. As it turns out, I did not. Read my discussion below (which, admittedly, has some spoilers) to find out why.
One year, at the suggestion of another teacher, I required my Advanced Placement Literature students to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Hamilton was a serious scholar who compiled myths from varied sources and combined them into relatively easy to read, concise packages that, lined up one after another, formed a fat, enticing book. I was so compelled, as a 25-year-old, by the magical stories in her text, that I’d sit in my bedroom all night, reading, underlining, and scribbling notes in the book’s margins. I’d set the book down every so often and take manic walks in my pajama pants around Montrose, an artsy neighborhood in Houston, Texas, while listening to Joan Baez on my IPod and letting my mind roam. My decision to walk around downtown Houston at night was not a product of common sense or concern for safety, but I suppose none of the horror movie’s I’d watched up to that point properly indoctrinated me with a rational fear of the dark, or of other people. (I was watching The Ring on repeat then, so I likely thought that it was more dangerous to sit in front of the television – lest an evil little girl crawl out – than it was to walk outside.) Then, I’d hurry back in the house, run to my bedroom with its deep, maroon walls and black and brown bookshelves from Target, and re-enter the world of myth. Continue reading ““What a Lovely Throat!” – Getting Nosferatu’s Ultimate Hickey”
The 1973 classic Don’t Look Now initially does not appear to fall under the banner of horror. Shortly after John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) lose their daughter in a drowning accident – a scene which is remarkably unsettling – they end up in Venice, where John, as an architect, helps restore ancient sculptures and cathedrals. Laura is understandably depressed and detached after the incident, until she bumps into two women in Venice, one who – in a typically ironic way – is blind but has a psychic’s second sight, like a seer in an Ancient Greek tragedy. She tells Laura that her daughter is with them and happy. Shortly afterward, Laura faints, but when she awakes, she’s a remarkably new woman, optimistic and seemingly unscathed by past events. John, the stereotypically skeptical male, insists that Laura is unwell, despite her insistence that the blind woman’s abilities are legitimate. Laura visits the women again, and the psychic tries, although unsuccessfully, to contact her daughter. Continue reading “Take a Look at Don’t Look Now!”
In a previous post about Richard Matheson’s Hell House, I posted about a house that was evil because it contained evil. In Hell House corruption festers for years, leaving the house insidiously haunted. The 1963 film, The Haunting, is based off Shirley Jackson’s book The Haunting of Hill House and also details the occurrences in a haunted house. But Hill House in The Haunting is different. True, the movie implies that its owner, Hugh Crane, was sadistic and twisted. And his daughter Abigail died in the house, an old woman, because of a paid companion’s negligence. But the haunted house in The Haunting started killing on its own before these events occurred. Continue reading “From Hell House to Hill House: Some Perspective on the Original “The Haunting” (1963)”