I don’t remember how many horror movies I’d seen when Scream first came out in theaters, but I’d probably watched at least Kubrick’s The Shining and Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the first two horror movies I recall seeing – in the tiny t.v. room of my family’s old house on East Gore Road before settling down in the theater to see Wes Craven’s post-modern masterpiece. The original Scream came out in 1996, when I was twelve years old. I don’t remember the “build-up” to the film the way I remember the anticipation preceding, say, the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project (and my concomitant let-down when I was less than scared by the film), but I definitely remember the general reaction to the shockingly grotesque introduction that the film provides.
One thing worth noting about the horror genre is that it produces images that resist quick mental erasure. From the statuesque model who turns into a decrepit, decaying old woman in the infamous shower scene of The Shining to the bloody womb hanging limply outside the skin of Nola Carveth in The Brood, horror does nothing if not supply us with grotesque images of often monstrous women. Psycho’s Norma Bates, then, is no exception. In Hitchcock’s original film, Psycho, we see Norma not as a mommy so much as a stereotypical mummy; all that is left of her is a skeletal, eyeless frame and some tousled hair pulled back in a bun. We hear her character, and therefore understand her character, only through Marion Crane’s ears as the delusional Norman voices her from afar in the antiquated Victorian house on the hill outside Bates Motel. But Norma is a famous mummy, and a famous mommy, to be sure, one who lingers in the mind of the viewer long after the theater lights go on, and one who has lingered in the cultural imagination now for sixty-one years and counting. Significantly, Norma Bates didn’t get to speak for herself until 2013, when the hit TV show Bates Motel rescued and re-invented her character through Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of her as Norman’s mildly cooky but vivacious and loving mom. As a woman who navigates an excruciating past, a corrupt, drug-infested city, and a psychotic son with surprising sangfroid, Norma Bates in Bates Motel is who I choose to feature this year for the annual Fiction’s Fearless Females blogathon.
Before I started studying horror as a path toward getting a doctorate, I’d never heard of Tod Browning’s Freaks. In fact, I’d only vaguely heard of Tod Browning. I’d seen his 1931 rendition of Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi, one fall night quite a few years ago, when Tinseltown was doing a double feature of Browning’s Dracula, followed by the far superior Spanish version of the film shot the same year (on the same set, but at night, with a different director). I suppose back then I thought of myself as a bit of a horror connoisseur, but perhaps I was basking in my own ego – and that ego was eclipsing all my knowledge of what I didn’t know. Because what I’ve learned since I started reading about horror is that Tod Browning is considered a central auteur in the horror field. In terms of horror cinema, he’s easily one of the genre’s founders, and with good (varying) reasons. Continue reading “My First Viewing of Freaks (1932)”→
Warning: Because of the film I’ve decided to talk about, the following subject matter will be unavoidably uncomfortable and dismal. Second Warning: If you’ve not yet seen Midsommar and you want to see it, well, first of all, get to it 🙂 (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and second, you may encounter some spoilers. Okay, you’ve been warned, onward: Continue reading “Dani from Midsommar — Fiction’s Fearless Females”→
Michael and I were just sitting around on a slow Saturday afternoon, without much on the agenda. While horror movies tend to be night-time fare for us, the feeling of an afternoon movie on a warm June day just sort of says summer vacation (present summer vacation for me, imminent summer vacation for Michael), so we decided on a 12:10 showing of Ma. My excitement about the film was considerable, but my trepidation about the film regarded the possibility that all of the really shocking, provocative elements of the film may have already been showcased in the trailer – I thought. I was prepared – similar to the situation I experienced with Brightburn –to see a film that didn’t offer much beyond the preview attractions. And while it is true – we get a glimpse of a lot of gore before the movie – there’s so much more to the film than the previews indicate, and Octavia Spencer captures a complex, layered, troubled character with unquestionable perfection. It’s hard to call Ma the best horror movie of the spring, with gems like Us and Pet Sematary gracing the screen, but it can certainly compete. As a heads-up, I have all but given up on writing spoiler-free reviews, so my apologies, but spoilers will abound in this piece.
Well, the long-awaited evening arrived. I’d been looking forward to Brightburn with at least tenuously high
expectations since Michael told me about the premise oh-so-many-months ago. The film’s situation sounded fascinating – an
inversion of the Superman mythos, in which Superman is embodied in an evil 12-year-old
child – and the previews looked plenty scary.
Couple that with the fact that I really like Elizabeth Banks – and she’s
one of the main forces behind Shrill, a
show I’ve been singing the praises of a la twitter for months – and this was
definitely a film I had to see when it came out. “How about we see it Saturday” Michael suggested
sweetly. I replied, “I’m going on
Thursday night when I get off work, whether you go with me or not.” So, I’m not quite sure if I would have put my
money where my mouth was – I don’t go to the movies alone much, and I hadn’t
asked anyone else along – but luckily, Michael capitulated, and after a quick
four hour shift at Torrid, I met him at the coffee shop across the street and
we zipped to Tinseltown, where we
were two of six people in the theater to see one of the first screenings of Brightburn.
It is just a
screen. I tell myself. Nothing
but some actors playing out a ghost story on the screen. You’ll be 35 years old in a couple months—you
can do this. My self-assurance
slowly lapses into condescension as I secretly lambast myself for being so afraid. After all, do I not write on a horror
blog? Am I not focusing my dissertation
on some element of the horror genre? Some
of this stuff is, indeed, second nature to me –werewolves and vampires have
never scared me, and I’ve seen The
Shining at least fifty times by now—but something about a well-made ghost movie,
one that I haven’t already watched on repeat, really has the ability to de-stabilize
my zen. With the right directing and producing
– the appropriate manufacture of jump scares – I can find myself fighting the
urge (and sometimes giving into the urge) to cover my ears and eyes as I’m
watching a particularly suspenseful horror film. It’s rare that I react this way, but it does
occur—which, I might mention, is another reason I love the horror genre. For as many of these films as I’ve seen, the right
one still has the power to scare the $#!+ out of me.
One of my favorite scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a two or three second shock during which a series of terrifying events happen. At this point in the film, Danny has been replaced by Tony, who’s saying “Redrum” in a voice that’s robotic at first and amplifies in intensity and urgency as Jack’s presence gets closer. As Danny—or “Tony,” his psychic alter-ego—screams “Redrum,” Wendy reads the words backward in the mirror. The camera pans in on the word “murder” written in childish handwriting with blood-red lipstick. Almost as soon as we, the viewers, read “murder” in the mirror, we hear the unnerving sound of an ax chopping through wood and the camera moves to Jack, who wields the huge, sharp, silver device and uses it to slice through the wooden door of the caretaker’s quarters, where Danny and Wendy reside. As if this nexus of sensation weren’t enough to alarm us, the viewers, and pull as even a little more deeply into The Shining’s sinister, unpredictable world, Wendy’s voice intercepts this moment with a simultaneously frenetic and bone-chilling scream—a scream that we’ll hear different variations of for the rest of the movie. In turn, we, as the viewers—at least a little bit—start feeling Wendy’s maddening fear, and our cognition is ultimately forced to accept a mis-en-scene and narrative moment that’s eliminated anything reassuring or comforting for us to latch onto. We are, in a sense, in the void, and we are there with Wendy.
As I’ve been off working hard at life, Hollywood has been working even harder to create a deliciously rich amalgam of Spring horror movies and to thus to pull me back toward my long-neglected blog. The list that Michael and I started composing after watching horror movie previews turned out to be too noteworthy to ignore. Couple that with the fact that I’m feeling chatty lately (more in the mood to shout from a roof top, less in the mood to crouch in a corner) and you have a recipe for my first self-composed blog post in exactly three months. I don’t claim this to be an exhaustive list of all-things-horror being released in the next few months, but I’m trying to be fairly thorough with the rather abundant supply of scary that’s headed toward the theaters. The first two entries on this list are films I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, and the rest are films that haven’t been released yet, but that I’ll be sure to see when they are released. For your ease-of-reading, I’ve arranged the films by release date, accompanied by trailers. My discussion, of course, will be slightly more thorough for the two films I’ve already seen. In any case, here they are: five films to consider if you need a (decidedly terrifying, unnerving, exhilarating) movie night any time soon.
Well, unsurprisingly, it’s three in the morning and I’ve
decided to write a blog post. You see, I
was reading On Monsters: An Unnatural
History of our Worst Fears by Stephen T. Asma, and his writing is so fluid,
his stories so interesting, his points so insightful, that I got inspired to
write. In general, I find that as I read
more for my comprehensive exams, I tend to get so enthusiastic that I feel I
absolutely must release some of my
excitement through writing. And, I have
the perfect fodder for a blog post this evening. Michael and I went to see a showing of Escape Room tonight, and we both really
enjoyed the film. Given that I’ve been
reading about monsters and horror non-stop over break, my mind started playing
with the movie in light of what I’ve been reading, and I jotted down some
thoughts earlier. So, here’s what will
probably be a fairly short little post on Escape
Room. I’m not one for rating or
grading movies, so while I won’t give it a rating, I’ll say it’s an interesting
example of a horror archetype we’ve been seeing a lot of recently, and it’s a
genuinely engaging film with (my favorite!) mostly
likable characters! As such, I
highly suggest you check it out. But…I’m
no good at writing without spoilers, so those will inevitably follow this