Monday, July 6, 2015

Horror Is Independence: Ms. Dreadful's Nightmare Gallery

I was really happy to be a part of something productive (and structured) over the brief American holiday break. Its marriage of lots of horror and creativity was enough to get me on board, doubled with the fact that its sort of a sacred duty of mine to support my friend JD when at all possible. Her venture, Ms. Dreadful's Nightmare Gallery was a mobilizing effort for using this time away from the necessity of leaving the home for a "movie marathon creative challenge" where you could draw inspiration from a film after watching and create something. Anything. Which is pretty neat considering the common modus operandi after a film watch is to review/critique it. Why not see where it takes you artistically?

This is a personal challenge for myself as my natural instinct is to sit with a film long after watching and meditate on it. I blame much of my over analyses on my college training. But here, I attempt to blend overly nerdy, academicky prose with reactionary, informal wit to create my own cohesive statement on five "classic American horror films ranging from the 60s to the 80s" because these films are "a monumentally important touchstone in horror history". Here goes something.

Psycho (1960)

"We all go a little mad sometimes..."

If there's one subject/topic that pierces my inward struggle and actually scares me, it's the perpetual feeling of loneliness. Something about Norman tugs at that insecurity within myself. Will I be driven to homicidal madness by it? Probably not. However, what is revealed about his story adds a very broad emotional element that I feel has made him such an iconic figure.

Me on most days.
Besides that one aspect of the film I think gets overlooked quite a bit, and maybe that's because it's an underlying theme that even as sweeping commentary takes some vulnerability and courage to acknowledge, there isn't more about Psycho I can unlock that hasn't been already. If I were to unravel this film on my own terms, I would take the descent with Norman. This was still the era where the antagonist could gather a lot more sympathy and they ought have.

Some Notes

- Themes: escapism, feeling trapped, isolation

- I love that Busta Rhymes thought the main score was compatible for an update on one of his tracks.

- I see how where Jamie Lee Curtis gets her sex appeal. Janet was quite alluring.

- Swamps are awesome for hiding evidence of a crime!

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

*the sound of Ben's fist hitting Harry's face*

I've done my share of research on Living Dead because of its significance with racial representation not just in horror, but film history as a whole. It's an important film for so many reasons, but Ben (Duane Jones) really put Black behinds in movie seats and consistently. His character was the 'hope', or, more so fantasy in a sense of my elders in the universe Romero and his crew created.

Overall, it is a terrifying, classic piece for cinematic work. While far from perfect, Night Of The Living Dead set the overt precedent for how horror can start a dialogue/demonstrate the multiple anxieties of our real world experiences.

Some Notes

- Themes: survival, leadership, regret

- John reminds me so much of my youngest brother. I wanna slug them both!

- I wish Duane Jones was still around to give talks about his role. But we do at least have this.

- The score is something special.

The Exorcist (1973)

"What an excellent day for an exorcism."

I've thought a lot about The Exorcist over the years. It's sadness and rage has fascinated me, and I've linked the root of the turmoil generated from the characters to the 70s Women's Liberation Movement. The Exorcist does not say that equality and fairness for women is "evil", that's absurd. But the fantastical ideas, that "superwoman" myth I've argued is kind of a dangerous falsehood. And everything Regan's mother juggled, especially her angst (her feelings about Regan's father, etc.), festered inside of her fragile teenage daughter and became what we saw.

Me when I'm sick
The most frightening aspect of it all for me deeply is, the attack on Regan's body and soul is seemingly random. On the surface, it was like evil rolled the dice and it landed in her bedroom. Oh wait- I always forget about the damn ouija board!

Some Notes

- Themes: crisis of faith (both religious and non-religious), guilt, science vs. antiquity

- Father Merrin always looked like he needed a hug. His work was way too stressful.

- The devil is like, super awesome at making you believe a lie to be truth.

- I very much enjoyed Story B about Father Karras.

- Was Regan's father some sort of a 'rock star'? I never noticed that until now!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)

"I just can't take no pleasure in killing. There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it."

I took a class about family in grad school. My instructor had little to no liberal arts training and it showed, because we spent 80% of our time watching films to get a grasp on what is/makes a family. Only as a cinephile that is too serious about my professional development did this work in my favor. I imagine she would describe her choices as diversified, I would argue not. As someone who has spent so much time invested in horror, in a classroom and outside of one, I try to be patient with those who have an aversion to it. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinly annoyed with such an iconic film that hits you over the head with family (literally), being ignored.

I like non-traditional family portraits.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was "shocking" for many reasons. But a lot of its underlying commentary about the economic stranglehold on small businesses in even smaller towns blends seamlessly with its need to show how the effect could additionally be stronger familial ties for the sake of survival. What kind of madness, in a sense, is exacerbated when people feel powerless? Further, and much more unsettling is the reality that this madness exists and is very nondiscriminatory in who it targets.

Some Notes

- Themes: family, armageddon (like, for real...)

- You can actually feel the filth in the heat in the interiors which makes TCM that much more horrifying. At least for a germaphobe.

- Knowing much of the backstory to everything that went down during filming kinda enhances the film as a whole for me.

- I didn't realize how annoying Franklin really was until now!

The Thing (1982)

"Yeah ...fuck you too!"

What was great to really dig in and discover with my billionth watch of this masterpiece is the detailed quirks and perfect pacing of what amalgamates into one big mystery. John Carpenter is known for being political in his work, and The Thing sits high on that shelf. It wants you to settle in in its unbearable discomfort of being so far from what you've known, you lose yourself. This is one of those films not built on happy accidents. It has a distinct desire for its audience. It craves your sense of security than wants it to implode.

What you do when your friends turn on you.
The characters were already on edge before the action begins. Each seeming fed up with the station and each other. And because of that intimacy, The Thing transcends just entertainment and you find at least one character that helps makes you feel how cold it is outside and that inevitable dread of infection. To this day, I still have to mute and avert through the dog scene.

Some Notes
- Themes: isolation, paranoia

- The dogs always gets to me.

- I wondered what it would be like to have an all-female cast. This should happen instead of that Ghostbusters one. But with like, Ava Duvernay directing.

- If I was on a camp site in Antarctica, I'd smoke a lot of weed too.

Thanks JD for this fun ride! Much love...
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