…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “horror

Ghosts of “Insidious” Past


‘It’s not your house that’s haunted, it’s your son,’ an exorcist tells Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) about their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) in James Wan‘s Insidious, and what I want to tell every other parent I’ve ever met. The film makes audiences notice whatever is out-of-place within the house, the ghosts audacious enough to run around in the middle of the day, scaring poor musician/housewife Renai.  The film’s problematic but its title is fitting. Its ghosts don’t lunge but stand, their unequivocal presence reminding our hot young couple that every space they inhabit is inherently never their own. The film raises those stakes, as the exorcist claims that other spirits want to inhabit Dalton’s body, the ownership of our bodies is thus as precarious as that of our homes.

Insidious swims through antiquity, from the suspicious furniture to the exorcists’ equipment, the latter’s light bulb-filled boards seemingly ransacked from Dr. Frankenstein’s lair. Its references range from Murnau, the Noh genre, new Spanish horror, and other people and genres you know better about. The first house they movie into had big panels and SPOILER claustrophobic red hallways, both reminding me of Suspiria, making me wish I studied architecture, even if there are too potentially many scary stories in a house so beautiful. 3/5

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Psycho stories and shots


Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.

Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.

As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.

So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”

“No, not that deep.”

“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.

“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”

“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.

“ZERO!”

“NO!”

“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”

“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”

I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.

What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess.  The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.

Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the  bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.

Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.

Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.

This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.


Neverending Christmas: Gremlins is Black


So watched this movie last week at the Underground, had some spiked apple cider, met Sasha, entered raffle, not win anything from raffle. Also, there were short theatrical and musical performances. The former from the Underground staff, the latter from a band with a front girl who sounds like Feist. Thanks girl, I was rooting for me being the hottest person in that room.

I remember the chair scene, I remember a mall instead of a department store. The sequel probably ends in a mall. I haven’t seen the sequel since my childhood.

ph. Warner

Apparently the gremlins is black. Stripe with his mohawk doesn’t register as black to me. I guess their ‘blackness,’ in a ‘Renaissance’ perspective of the word, has something to do with the second rule, as light can be seen as whiteness, something that the gremlins can’t live under. The gremlins don’t even register as Chinese, since the parent gremlin does come from China. Ok, thinking about the raciality of the gremlins almost made my head explode. I was this close to comparing them to ‘Muslims,’ or at least how ‘red’ America perceives them.

Nonetheless, the racial reading of the film roots from that despite Christianity’s strength, there’s still an anxiety that Christmas, in its ever-evolving form, won’t be celebrated ‘traditionally,’ whatever our understanding of that is. On that note, maybe it’s not a racial but about generational differences, that the multiplication and transformation of the gremlins are the fault of a curious, young man.

Why is the school open on Christmas Eve? The science teacher wouldn’t have died if he didn’t work. I guess it builds on the childhood assumption that teachers line in school. For some reason, schools in Reagan-era America actually had enough funding to indulge their teachers to make their own research and the facilities that go with them. Also, ooh, black on black violence.

Also, the retired Phoebe Kline nee Cates. She made Jessica Alba seem like a Shakespearean actress.


To Maybe Watch Sweeney Todd


Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.

ph. DreamWorks

There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.

Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.

And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.

There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.

I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.


Halloween Post: Let Me In


ph. Overture

In Let Me In, director Matt Reeves blatantly uses the original Swedish Let The Right One In as a starting point, but Rear Window references come within this film as well. The first references is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) spying on his neighbors in his apartment complex with a telescope. The telescope scene reminds me of how many blue irises the film features. He spies on adults more sexually capable than he is – a good-looking, moody couple and a man lifting weights in his apartment. It’s strange them when Owen notices that the new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her father (Richard Jenkins) have their windows boarded up. The second reference is when Abby’s father pops up from a backseat of a car, attacking a young man while the train passes by. Lights from the train or the tracks flash and the screen turns red as an old man attacks. With the exception of these red flashes, blue and white dominate the film, but even those colours come off as somehow warmer in this film than the original. We’ll have Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser to thank for all of those.

Michael Giacchino created the film’s score, but it sounds more like Hans Zimmer. Owen’s mother is barely visible in the film. I guessed Ali Larter, but I got slightly mad when I found out that she is played by the talented Cara Buono.

The film exposes the source material’s themes without spoon-feeding it to the audience. Smit-McPhee’s Owen is more sickly compared to the twinky in the original, and Moretz’ Abby is more gross yet slightly more emotional than Lina Leandersson’s Elin. The tone of their interactions are more varied and have an arc, Owen’s voice creaking a bit when he tries to talk to the new girl, both of them as awkward as kids in their situation would be. This awkwardness is heightened by Abby, of course, being a vampire. They’re more combative, both crossing the lines of their friendship, daring each other, testing each other’s humanity and compassion, finding out whether one would help the other. We’ll have Reeves and the actors to thank for that as well.


The Birds


ph. Universal

My first film professor taught us shot-counter shot relationships through the most complex examples – those that are found in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. This isn’t the first time Hitch made characters within the film as metaphors for the audience. However, unlike in Rear Window where there are just three or four people at the most watching Jimmy Stewart’s neighbors, it’s one or two-second shots a little crowd watching, all of them focused on different things. Until our main heckler, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) points out something urgent. Shot: explosion!

Counter shot – freeze frame of Melanie reacting ridiculously to the spreading fire.

Wait, did Tippi name her daughter after this character? Anyway, shot – another explosion!

And establishing shot, showing the audience both how small and large the damage is, and showing us the distances between the three locations where the action happens and is being watched. People in chaos running like ants. And that’s just the beginning of another attack.

I can only imagine papers written about this movie all fighting for what they think the movie’s about. The bird attacks symbolizing Cold War paranoia, the urban versus rural divide, the xenophobia engendered by those two issues – love interest Mitchell Brenner’s (Rod Taylor) sister Cathy (Nancy Cartwright) judging her brother’s clients as hoods, even if their mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) corrects her to no avail. Or the birds as a comment on Native versus white occupation, nature against man or expressing how crappy it is to meet in-laws. Melanie is the stand-in for the audience but she comes of as a bit distant so some of the audience can relate more to the townspeople who alienate her. As one of the misinformed visitors say, she might be the cause of all this, the birds following her around and attacking her. And as a big city girl, she goes places alone, and every ten or fifteen minutes of the film she gets attacked.

The film’s first scene alludes to a court date, which leads to socialite Melanie’s history of pranks and Roman exhibitionism. Her face is small, child-like and elegant, but unlike most of Hitch’s earlier heroines, she isn’t one bit innocent. Her deeper voice is more flirtatious than Hitch’s women before her. Instead of feigning innocence, she tries to she the audience that those reckless days are behind her. That’s why the recycled Edith Head outfits and aging chignon are trying to convey. Those qualities convince Mitch, although creating quick banter between them, he keeps reminding her of her past, that she stalked him all the way to his small town, Bodega Bay and won’t let her hear the end of it. She does have to face a hurdle, Lydia which reminds her of issues with her own mother.

Lydia despite of what she reads in the gossip columns, also reluctantly gives Melanie the stamp of approval. The film introduces Lydia as an older woman with piercing, accusing eyes. Anne also gives Melanie fair warning about how Lydia may take her and Mitch apart the same way Mitch and Anne’s relationship ended because of Lydia. Thankfully however, Tandy lucked out on becoming the nicest, most three-dimensional older woman, her age group otherwise demonized in other Hitchcock films (the second nicest, most three-dimensional old woman in Hitch’s films is Anthony Perkins). Lydia is specifically distresses seeing another farmer’s corpse, attacked by birds. She gets to air out her anxieties, her fear that comes with a loss of physical and emotional strength. She questions her own mothering abilities, she’s afraid of being abandoned, ambivalent towards Melanie that she reveals to the latter’s face. She creepily calls Mitch ‘dear’ then later calls him inadequate compared to his father, Frank.

I’ll go back to Hedren’s acting. She can convey the darker, sexier side of later Hitchcock heroines while being caring towards the Brenners but sometimes she loses that spark. Some of the attack scenes also show her weak spots – she flirts seconds after being attacked by a gull, taking away from the believability of the scene. In other scenes, she positions her head, lips and every limb in its exact, photogenic place, not letting go of a performed beauty even in moments of terror. I’m not sure whether to blame her or to blame Hitchcock whose relationship to actors and coaching them aren’t known as the best.

My second complaint would be the special effects, but I think some of you will defend that as ‘painterly.’ Yes, I was actually terrified when the birds started coming in from the fireplace. And yes, I know that Hitch and his crew used as many live birds as possible during production. As the ornithologist in the restaurant says, it’s a war against the temperamental birds, the film this about whether the birds do or don’t mark their territory against man.


TIFF: L.A. Zombie


A friend warned me against Bruce La Bruce and therefore warned me against the latter’s new movie at TIFF, L.A. Zombie, that he has no desire to watch because it would end up being like ‘pretentious hack poverty porn.’ But of course, I’m not a good friend.

ph. TIFF

An alien zombie emerges (Francois Sagat) in the form that whoever Supreme being created him, from the Pacific Ocean and walks his way to the beaches of L.A. There’s three versions of this monster. There’s the alien zombie version of him who penetrates dead men with the former’s whatever it is in the latter’s man-made orifices – I hope I’m understood. The homeless version of him, cured after intercourse with the dead men – he regresses into the first version although he eventually controls his transformation between these two stages. The third version looks like the first, but the latter watches the former have sex with dead sadomasochistic muscle heads (including Francesco D’Macho, Erik Rhodes, Matthew Rush) and this third version has bigger fangs. Portions of the film accompanied by Chopin’s violin concertos.

The two coexisting versions of the alien zombie are, according to him, open to interpretation. Every text is open to interpretation. There are many intentionally disappointing things about the film. That he can’t fully commitment to any message is my biggest disappointment. The film has its fashion connections, from Bernard Wilhelm’s deconstruction designs to a cameo by Santino Rice as a homeless drunk. I gave this movie a 1/5, and I felt good doing it.