Friday, October 28, 2011

scary movie themes

To get you in that Halloween mood.

Psycho - Bernard Herrmann

Phantasm - Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave

The Fog - John Carpenter

Carrie - Pino Donaggio

The Thing - Ennio Morricone

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Charles Bernstein

Creature from the Black Lagoon - cue by Henry Mancini

Alien - Jerry Goldsmith

Poltergeist - Jerry Goldsmith

Jaws - John Williams

Suspiria (so scary!) - Goblin

Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) - Goblin

"End Theme from Friday the 13th" - Harry Manfredini

The Amityville Horror - Lalo Schifrin

"Tubular Bells" (from The Exorcist) - Mike Oldfield

Halloween - John Carpenter

Body Double - Pino Donaggio (love the synths on this)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

who goes there? - the power of paranoia: a guest post by jerome murphy

Our favorite weird hothouse flower H.P Lovecraft - in all his florid Poesque overwroughtness, with a prose style like wrought-iron curlicued gates - got it right: "“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” With this solid premise, he built dream-castles on rock.

But where the concept really resonates, is in everyday life - where the unknown is not between human and alien, but between Self and Other. A most frightening truth is this: all others are alien. At some level, no one can fully know or trust anyone else. This is why Halloween masks scared me as a kid - they embody this basic insecurity of our experience. Children are still learning how much they can trust parents and teachers, where the boundaries are. Yeah - for me Halloween masks threw a match right on that gasoline.

"Who's there?"- the immortal opening of Hamlet, the prototypical paranoia play. There is a ghost who may or may not be Hamlet's real father, a mother he cannot trust, a play-acting uncle, a play-within-a-play; Hamlet himself pretending madness and innocence (or is he) - and you see? everyone winds up dead.

And so, the Lovecraftian "Who Goes There," a 1930s pulp sci-fi story by John Campbell Jr, has proved endlessly durable, almost adaptable as The Body Snatchers. The shared concept of the alien who mimics the everyday Other handily embodied Cold War-era paranoia, and in later adaptations, our distrust of the military-industrial complex; then fears of infection in the HIV era. Politically, physically, sexually, you can never tell what's inside your neighbor just by looking at them. The strength of The Thing, versus Body Snatchers, was the isolation factor: the characters had to do battle with this basic insecurity in a remote, confined space.

The latest adaptation, a slickly reverse-engineered prequel based on the doomed Norwegian team referenced in Carpenter's version, is itself a shapeshifting blob in the process of digesting earlier influences - particularly Ridley Scott's AlienThe influences are showing clearly in the films transparent digestive tract, kicking and screaming. You've got a no-nonsense female protagonist, a wrecked spaceship, a claustrophobically isolated crew, and flamethrowing. No, really - lots and lots of flamethrowing. You will be hungry for s'mores by the end of this movie.

What this Thing, with its elegantly chilly setting and distended CGI budget fails to tap into, is the power of paranoia. It sits on top of a rich reserve of paranoid storytelling, from Hamlet on down, without striking any oil. The creatures' appearances are not supposed to terrify in and of themselves (and they don't); what terrifies is the swift, sudden revelation of who is not to be trusted.

Enough plot holes for fishnet fetishwear - where do the vehicles come from after being disabled, why is the ship able to work again, how is clothing replicated by the thing - don't matter if you can tap into the elemental power of paranoia, as John Carpenter did. Carpenter's flick made enough gestures (hastily, yes) toward distinct personalities that we had characters we thought we knew. On which pivots the whole enterprise. You had Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Keith David on one Arctic team, and you didn't want any of them to be Thinged.

The Thing can only replicate organic matter, but there needs to be organic matter in the first place. Where's the wisecracking ("but it's a dry heat!") from Aliens or any of the necessary touches of eccentricity to show us we're dealing with real live people?

In this gleaming Coors Lite can, few of the interchangeable Norwegians seem human to begin with, so who cares who's the Thing? Oh, that was Lars? Go ahead and torch him, he won't be missed. Yeah, there's the arrogant hubristic professor type. Yeah, there's a token black guy, whose personality is -  the token black guy.

To be fair, like the team members with their fumbling flashlights, the scriptwriters vaguely grasp the resonance of this theme. A clever touch like a radio playing Men At Work's "Who Can It Be Now" signals their awareness. They simply miscalculate how pivotal an element it is to this story's effectiveness.

Attention, horror filmmakers: you're showing too much. More masking. Let our minds interact with the unknowns. That's why Rosemary's Baby works. Why Body Snatchers works. Why flashy CGI is less effective than long hallways, howling wind and subtly suggestive soundtracks, and close ups of faces which may hide something unspeakable. You don't need to assault our senses with orchestral surround-sound. Don't let the monsters wear out their welcome. It's all enough to send you back to Lovecraft and his subtly suggestive tales of masked shapeshifters ("The Thing On the Doorstep," "The Whisperer in Darkness"). Or to the many successful horror flicks which successfully play on the insecurity between the known vs unknown Other, like Carpenter's own They Live, in which the aliens are all around us, wearing attractive human faces. What a nightmare to be one of the few who can see through the exteriors!

Indeed, this is the fundamental, underlying power behind the phrase trick or treat. Which is which?

Or, as a scared child once realized: who needs Halloween, when faces are masks already? The best horror flicks are those that recognize that when it comes to human societies, Halloween is all year round.

-Jerome Murphy

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

horror hunks

Christian Bale in American Psycho

John Travolta in Carrie

Chad Michael Murray in House of Wax

Steve McQueen in The Blob

Brad Pitt in Cutting Class

Paul Walker in Joy Ride

George Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes

Penn Badgley in The Stepfather

Matthew McConaughey from Frailty

Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street

Ryan Reynolds in The Amityville Horror

Skeet Ulrich in Scream

John Cassavettes in Rosemary's Baby

John Stockwell from Christine.

Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead

Tom McBride from Friday the 13th Part 2

Vince Vaughn in Psycho

Mike Gruner from Jaws 2

Danny Hassel from Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5

Monday, October 24, 2011

the fun about fear - a guest post by karen g.

Here’s to those prickly beads of sweat on your brow. That uncomfortable feeling of weightlessness in the pit of your stomach. A jolt in your seat as you grab whomever might be next to you. A wave of mild nausea and sometimes even a tiny yelp or muffled scream.

I’m talking about good old-fashioned scares in our favorite horror movies, and those moments of addictive discomfort that just keep us going back for more. Yes, The Exorcist and The Shining are definitely in the top 10, but here are a few others that deserve a mention.

The Evil Dead (1981)

While extremely campy and laughable at times, there were some pretty creepy scenes in this Sam Raimi classic!

Alien (1979)

I remember the sound effects in this movie and build-up to the actual monster being more terrifying that the monster itself (although Giger’s “alien” left us all in awe once revealed) Truly one of the best written “suspense sci-fi horrors” I’ve seen.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I remember my older sister returning from the movies, pale-faced, after seeing this in 1984. I was too young at the time so my mother wouldn’t let me go to the movies to see it. I sat on the edge of my bed that night as my sister retold the tale of the burnt man with “knives for hands” who terrorized teenagers in their dreams. That night, with only the creepy trailers that were on TV at the time in my head, and the story my sister told me, I didn’t slept a wink. I lay there, trembling in my bed and praying that Freddy wouldn’t come for me.

Jaws (1975)

Romantic moonlight skinny-dipping in the ocean would never be the same again. The opening scene to one of my top 5 favorite movies changed the world for night-time swimmers and surfers forever.

Insidious (2010)

Honorable mention. The first movie in decades that made me squirm in my seat. So refreshing to watch a horror movie that had all the elements to make it an instant classic.

Event Horizon (1997)
The tale of the ship that went to hell and back took audiences by surprise at the sheer creepiness of what those black holes in space might really be about. This movie should get the “Endless Disturbing Visuals” award of the ‘90s.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

The actual news stories and newspaper clippings about the strange murders and occurrences in this house is what makes this movie even more intriguing and disturbing to watch. Laced with facts and now legends, the Amityville Horror stands out as one of the most notorious stories of an actual haunting that drove a family to leave their possessions and run for their lives.

Halloween (1978)

I still have moments where I’m afraid to look out of my window at night and see a white-masked maniac calmly standing outside looking up at me.

It (1990)

There’s a reason people don’t like clowns. A mini-series based on a novel by Stephen King had children crying at bath time for years! Even today, the thought of a sadistic clown living in the sewers in rather unsettling.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

If you’ve ever had the thought that you might look into your baby’s crib for the first time and recoil in horror, I’m sure you have this movie to thank.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"it tastes like ashes."

Lars Von Trier films often thwart and redefine aspects of aesthetic beauty. The blue planet romantically called 'Melancholia' in his latest picture is both a sensuous vision and an apocalyptic terror. His twinned story follows Kristen Dunst as glum newlywed Justine and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Set in a rambling, remote castle of Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), Justine awkwardly flits in and out of her reception in a stuffy white wedding gown and in a slew of events, loses both her job as an art director and her simplistic new husband (Alexander Skarsgård).  The second act focuses upon an unnerved Claire trying to take care of her depressed sister.  As Melancholia approaches Earth (evocatively photographed in the film's sans dialogue opening sequence), Claire becomes more and more rattled by the prospect of the extinction of life while Justine calmly waits it out.

At times creaky, Von Trier frustratingly purges many of his exposition's interesting plot lines and characters (including Charlotte Rampling as Justine and Claire's mother who rants against marriage) and centers upon the psychological fears of earthy Claire and the nihilistic Justine (similar, it seems, to the collision of the two planets).  Gainsbourg is the dramatic anchor the film needs.  While no one comforts her, including her cold husband, she sympathetically tries to ease her sister.  Horseback rides in the fog, a favorite dish of meatloaf ("it tastes like ashes") don't please Justine for very long. In a complicated performance, Dunst oscillates between downbeat grief and a sort of determined and confident anger ("The earth is evil.  We don't need to grieve for it," she bluntly intones to her sister).  Von Trier has said of her character: “She is longing for something of true value. And true values entail suffering. That’s the way we think. All in all, we tend to view melancholia as more true. We prefer music and art to contain a touch of melancholia. So melancholia in itself is a value. Unhappy and unrequited love is more romantic than happy love. For we don’t think that’s completely real, do we?”  Von Trier's handheld cam doesn't linger too much on the beauty of his actors or the picaresque setting (something out of a Vogue shoot; the golden-hued bridal bash appropriate for Vanity Fair) or the castle's crown molding.  The proceedings are even backed by Wagner's grand Tristan and Isolde overture.  But Von Trier isn't one for lush comfort, in effect, he annihilates it. ***

-Jeffery Berg