Ahhhh, election year. This year, Americans get to see an irascible, iridescent orange man with floppy straw hair standing behind a podium spewing vitriol and grandiosity while waving (rumor has it) little sausage fingers. And his harlequin fantasies of “having them” build a wall to “protect” our border (somehow, “we’re not gonna build it, they’re gonna build it,” he asserts) and banning over one billion members of a major, 1,406-year-old religion from entering our country, while punishing women who seek abortions, might make some wonder, what will he think of next? There are myriad possibilities. While I don’t think what I’m about to suggest would actually happen, policy ideas like his make me imagine, wildly, that anything could happen. Perhaps he would legalize one night a year for murder, to let resentful Americans release their stores of seething hatred. And if that were to happen, we’ll have Ethan Hawke and The Purge series to thank, a semi-dystopian horror series about what would happen if all crime was legal for one night of the year, including the big “Red Rum.” Continue reading “Problematic Presumptions in The Purge”
What is justice? What makes right actions right? Is it ever right, under any circumstances, to take a life? How do we treat the folksy mantra, “an eye for an eye?” These are all questions that Eli Roth’s short story “Valdivia” raised when I finished it, a story from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Book of Nightmares.
My “relationship” with Eli Roth’s work is an interesting one. I find myself fascinated by his films and the uncomfortable ground he’s willing to tread, though I’m often prone to critiquing seemingly problematic elements of his work. At least, such was the case after I saw The Green Inferno, and then again when I saw Knock Knock. I can’t really see myself being best buds with him but I’m always excited to see what he’ll do next. Even if my thinking tends to differ from his, he has an alluringly creative mind. From the vantage point of a horror fan, the dude’s seriously twisted, but in a good way. Which is why when I opened The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares last night I was immediately attracted to Roth’s name, next to the title of a 15-page short story called “Valdivia.” Continue reading “Shades of Grey: Seeking Justice in “Valdivia””
One of my favorite quotes from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (which is one of my all-time favorite books) goes like this: “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” Coelho’s words are often wise – this quote is just one example – but they’re probably meant, in this case, to encapsulate human relationships. No matter: they can easily be applied to art, cinema, music, etc. One can offer much in-depth critical analysis of a piece of art, but in the end we “only have to let that soft animal of [our] body love what it loves” as Mary Oliver says in her poem, “Wild Geese.” Criticism, commentary, and speculation are all ancillary relatives of that fundamentally satisfying, sometimes calm and refreshing, sometimes frenzied and excited feeling that wells up inside a person when she finds what she loves – in literature or the fine arts, cinema or music, or, to be genre specific….in horror.
Michael and I watched Scream the other night, and I’ve integrated part of the film into a lesson plan on writing reviews with a group of students, so I know how many online reviews of Scream there are, and I’m not hubristic enough to think I could add much fresh insight to two decades of commentary. As such, I decided to keep this post really, really simple. Even if, according to Coelho, I don’t need a reason to love the film I love, I’m going to tell you, in list format, why I do. If you’ve seen it before but it’s been awhile, perhaps you’ll revisit it. If you missed this 90’s cornerstone of violence and postmodernity, let me try to tell you why I think you simply must give it a watch. I have no set number limit to adhere to, and I’m listing my reasons in no specific order (I’m not much in the mood for organizing and planning right now). So here’s my on-a-whim explanation of my love affair with West Craven’s Scream. Continue reading “20 Years of Gore and Glory: Why I Love Scream”
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”
Confession: This excellent post idea is not my idea. In 2013 a woman named Lainey created a Top 5 on YouTube, which morphed into a Top 5 group on Goodreads. This week’s top five? Top five literary fathers. Well, you know, since this is a horror blog, I’ve decided to name the Top Five Horror fathers of all time. Now, as any adamant fan will admit, a list like this is highly contestable, and in choosing my favorite five, other great (or not-so-great) fathers have been omitted.
For much of my life, I had no real urge to see John Carpenter’s The Thing. Just the name of the film seemed blasé. I mean, how scary could a so-called “thing” be in a supernatural realm of ghosts, vampires, and demons? However, my interest piqued, both as I got older and as I started thinking more broadly about the horror genre. I began to wonder: Okay, so what exactly is “the thing,” and what can it do compared to other dangerous entities? After all, I’d seen Halloween, so I knew John Carpenter was more than capable of making a compelling horror film. (And, well, I love Lauryn Hill’s 90’s hit, “That Thing.” That has to matter, right?) A few nights ago, then, with those thoughts in mind, I grabbed The Thing off the rack at our local Family Video (yes, Michael and I still support brick and mortar video lenders) and the two of us settled down for what turned out to be a lengthy, in-depth study of partly-explained infestation and unchecked paranoia.
In his poem, “Roses,” William Carlos Williams writes, “The imagination, across the sorry facts, lifts us to make roses.” The poem can be uplifting or cynical, depending on its interpretation. When I sat down to write this piece, I was going to say that the poem was needlessly negative. Are the “facts” really that “sorry”? And can’t the mind work in an opposite way, so that everything around us is really rather nice but appears abysmal? Conversely, writers, for years, have been fascinated with the concept of disillusionment. Our minds build castles in the sky, and when those castles collapse, we see a depressing reality – or so the story goes sometimes. This was clearly Charles Beaumont’s interest in “The Magic Man,” a short story in his Perchance to Dream anthology – a story that isn’t scary, per se, but that subtly leads us to the darker crevices of the human psyche. (There will be some spoilers in this review). Continue reading “The Sting of Disillusionment”
Shhh. Wanna get sued?
That’s Groundskeeper Willie’s response to Bart when Bart says the name “The Shining” in the canonical Tree House of Horror episode parodying the film, instead of replacing the title, “The Shining,” with the slightly more comical title the episode adopted: “The Shinning.” To be honest, every time I hear the title, The Shining, I immediately want to shout, “Shhh. Wanna get sued?” So I may have been fishing for an excuse to use Willie’s quotation in the opening of this piece.
Zombies: pop-culture’s electrically hyped up obsession. While we haven’t completely tired of vampires yet, we love the thought of plague-stricken, psychologically incompetent but paradoxically dangerous human-monsters bumbling around, chewing flesh and making trouble for everyone. Surely The Walking Dead, which has received attention on a season-by-season basis on this site, is responsible for much of the captivation provided by the dead-in-life, alive-in-death status of these hungry roamers. But while The Walking Dead has some spot-on zombie action, I always suspect that maybe we’re more interested in a vision of the apocalypse – and the varied problematic but original scenarios an apocalypse creates – than the zombies, who serve as both a means to that vision and an entertaining sideshow. A recent short-story I read seems to validate this theory. Stephen Graham Jones’s Chapter Six is a zombie short-story that puts zombies in the backdrop of a sinister, surprising human drama. Continue reading “The Professor, the PhD Candidate, and the Undead”
As I watched The Conjuring 2 this afternoon, I found myself spastically reaching toward Michael’s arm and clasping his hand during the film’s intensity peaks. And when we were in the middle of a jump-scare, my startle was often augmented by Michael, who would grab my hand and come close to squeezing it off. In other words, The Conjuring 2 is scary, so unless you’re really emotionally stoic and relatively immune to anything horror, The Conjuring 2 promises you a few unsettling moments – at least. Michael, who has been seeing horror movies with me since we started dating over a year and a half ago, said that this was the most afraid he’s been since he got used to seeing films from the genre. I was scared too, but also intrigued. In fact, I was not just intrigued, but impressed, as we watched the film. The Conjuring 2 does not rely on fear alone, though the movie is scary. It manages to be an incredibly satisfying, even emotionally moving story, at the same time. In other words, the plot isn’t a mere vehicle for terrifying moments. The Conjuring 2 is a well-developed film with a unique story line that “happens to have” a lot of scary parts. And – bonus! – it’s based off a true story. Continue reading “A Scarier Sequel: Drama and Anxiety in The Conjuring 2”