Navigating Norman: The Serial Killer Monster as Meaning Machine

W. Scott Poole quotes Judith Halberstam, who calls the monster a “meaning machine.”  This observation seems to suggest that the monster is always overdetermined – that the monstrous body in a particular work can mean a variety of things in any given time and place.  Poole agrees with Halberstam when he argues: “The subject of monsters contains too much meaning” and goes on to observe that “the very messiness of the monster makes it a perfect entry into understanding the messiness of American history” (xv).  In Monster Theory, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen lays out the seven theses of the monster, and his first theses is that “the monster body is a cultural body” (4).  Cohen also believes that we can read the monster, but the monster’s meaning always has a basis in the culture that surrounds it.  While Poole asserts that monsters are indisputably real—created by material circumstances and producing material consequences – Calafell, who bases her readings heavily on Poole and Cohen, find the monster a useful metaphor for describing problematic identity relations in the United States; she seems to embrace both a metaphorical reading of the monster and the contention that monsters can be very real, at times.

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Navigating Norman: The Serial Killer Monster as Meaning Machine

Objects of Abjection: The Mad Monster in Stephen King’s Misery

Misery book 1I read Stephen King’s Misery earlier this summer for my comprehensive exams.  Then, I let the book rest for a while and didn’t do much with it.  It juxtaposes fascinatingly with the film, which depicts an Annie Wilkes who’s incredibly true to King’s story, courtesy of the monumentally talented Kathy Bates.  And, like the film, it explores concepts like female madness, and madness depicted as monstrosity, but in more depth than the film does.  Wilkes is at least a somewhat complex character who King—and his protagonist, Paul Sheldon—come close to virtually humanizing at times, despite her atrocious actions.  But the fact remains: Annie Wilkes is a madwoman, and she’s depicted as a monstrous madwoman.  I thought I’d use this post to look at more of Annie’s personality, and what the madwoman—and the monster woman—is, if we take Annie as an example of both.  So, let’s do this. Continue reading “Objects of Abjection: The Mad Monster in Stephen King’s Misery”

Objects of Abjection: The Mad Monster in Stephen King’s Misery

It Comes at Night – And You’ll See None of This Coming

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Photo Credit – It Comes at Night

I’ve always enjoyed titling pieces on this blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a more appropriate title for a movie.  And I say that because when you walk into the theater to see It Comes at Night, I’d highly advise you to surrender all expectations.  At a glance, this suggestion may come across as a criticism, which is not my intent.  I actually really invested my attention and energy into this film as I watched it, and I commend its originality, especially in a sometimes murky sea of similarly constructed modern horror films.  I have nothing scathing to say about it, but I think someone sitting in front of me and to my left said out loud as the credits were rolling, “What the fuck was that?”  To be sure, the type of story you’re expecting from the fairly elusive trailer is not the story you’re likely to receive.  Even the title of the movie seems crafted to intentionally deceive.  At the end of the day, because I always like to define horror broadly, I’ll say that yes, I’d situate It Comes At Night in the horror genre, but in many ways I found it highly unlike the horror I’m used to.  Bearing that in mind, I can’t help but talk about the film without giving away more than the trailer intends to reveal.  I also have a tricky habit of just saying whatever I want about a film on this blog, which often entails including spoilers (sorry).  So I’m not sure how much of the plot this post will ultimately reveal as I sit down to write, but know that by reading it you’re going to have information that the trailers don’t give you.  I will give you more warning about major spoilers.  With that in mind, continue if you dare. Continue reading “It Comes at Night – And You’ll See None of This Coming”

It Comes at Night – And You’ll See None of This Coming

Breaking Patterns with Unbreakable

Unbreakable © Touchstone Pictures
Photo Credit Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) is an utterly unique part of his canon –nothing like the film that preceded it, The Sixth Sense (1999), and nothing like the film that succeeded it, Signs (2002). While The Sixth Sense and Signs are obviously horror films, Unbreakable falls more appropriately under the suspense umbrella. Unbreakable is the tale of an unlikely superhero who only slowly comes to believe he has superhuman powers, and an ardent comic enthusiast who’s been searching for a superhero his entire life.  Despite the ostensible pleasantness of this plot line, the film is remarkably dark and foreboding.  Unbreakable is at least as heavy, if not heavier, than The Sixth Sense, and far darker than the uplifting Signs.  As I find it impossible to discuss an M. Night Shyamalan film without addressing the ending, be warned that spoilers will occur in this analysis. Continue reading “Breaking Patterns with Unbreakable”

Breaking Patterns with Unbreakable

Don’t Talk to Strangers

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Photo Credit – The Strangers

While my horror-related haul wasn’t as sprawling this Christmas as it was last Christmas, I still received a few terrifying tokens in my stocking this year.  Among them, Michael got me the 2005 movie The Strangers starring Liv Tyler.  Michael is a considerable Liv Tyler fan but held off on seeing this particular movie for over a decade because it looked too scary.  This gift was thus twofold: he bought me the DVD and, bonus, resolved to watch it with me, despite resisting this action repeatedly over the course of our two plus year relationship.  While Michael was terrified throughout the whole film, my feathers remained surprisingly unruffled.  I do find the film intriguing, however, for its exploration of senseless human malice.

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Don’t Talk to Strangers

Fear Goes Deep in The Shallows

 

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Photo Credit – The Shallows

About one third of the way through The Shallows, Michael turned to me and whispered, “This movie’s horrible.”  By “horrible” he did not mean “bad” – but rather “incredibly disturbing” (my words, though I believe they’re correctly inferred, and, I would add, the movie was so “incredibly disturbing” that it was frickin’ awesome!)  To be fair, it’s hard to create a contemporary incarnation of Spielberg’s esteemed Jaws, and Jaws is the lofty barometer against which any shark film (save perhaps Sharknaodo) will be measured.  There is, to be sure, only one Jaws, but The Shallows is excellent because it never imitates, never pretends to be some millennial version of the Spielberg classic, and never shies away from being its grotesque, gut-wrenching but semi-hip self.  No bearded fisherman smoking, fighting, comparing scars, and singing “Show me the way to go home…” in this film—no.  We only see sexy, svelte, but terrified Nancy (Blake Lively) sprawled out on a rock, panting, contemplating what she needs to do to survive in the middle of a sparkling, shark-infested ocean. Continue reading “Fear Goes Deep in The Shallows”

Fear Goes Deep in The Shallows

Exorcising Fear: The Vatican Tapes

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Photo Credit – The Vatican Tapes

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.

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Exorcising Fear: The Vatican Tapes