October 19, 2012

"I Got a Live One Here!"

 by Adam Sweeney

Batman (1989) - dir. Tim Burton

About hallway through Tim Burton's Batman, the Joker sits down to a meeting with his mob connections. He’s just gotten through killing his old boss over the set-up that turned him from Jack Napier to the Joker, and he is explaining to his audience that he is taking over as mob boss.

There is one man named Rotelli who sits at the opposite end of the table. He asks, "What if we say no?" in regards to the Joker's proposition of running the city into the ground. The Joker stands, seemingly gracious, and explains that he doesn't want a war and that they'll just shake hands. Rotelli seems a bit confused, but takes the Joker's hand anyway.

October 17, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Be Afraid of the Light

by Luke Burns

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - dir. Robert Aldrich

The sinister truth about Kiss Me Deadly was right under our noses the whole time. There were plenty of clues: the terrifying, illegible, backwards-scrolling credits1; the fact that the movie opens with a woman running for her life from some unknown malign force; but most of all, it’s the main character, Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who shows us the true nature the movie we’re watching. Kiss Me Deadly isn’t just a film noir — it’s a straight up horror film. It’s a monster movie, and Mike Hammer, our hero, is the monster.

October 16, 2012

Consent & Horror

by Mike Yarsky

A friend of mine told his parents to watch Audition – considered one of the most terrifying films of all time – because it was a well-crafted Japanese romance with some interesting twists to its narrative. This assessment is technically correct, but he had lied out of omission for the sake of a cheap prank on his parents. They were not expecting Takashi Miike's film to veer from its gentle, eccentric romantic comedy beginnings into the disturbing psychodrama of its second half. The justification for deceiving his parents is that he had expanded their horizons by getting them to watch something they would not have otherwise if they were granted sufficient warning. I suppose he didn't want them to deprive themselves of what he (and I, truth be told) deem cinematic greatness, so he imposed his wishes upon them via lying by omission.

Audition certainly tempts its viewers to not spoil it for the unwitting, and many of its supporters encourage people to view it without any expectations. The AV Club's Scott Tobias opened his write-up of Audition with a plea for the uninitiated to keep themselves as uninitiated as possible:

October 11, 2012

Lionheart's Greatest Performance

by Adam Sweeney

Theater of Blood (1973) - dir. Douglas Hickox

Listen to some of the score while you read

There is a certain amount of joy that comes with watching a Vincent Price movie. He's probably the finest actor that ever consistently played in horror films. With that kind of career, he only had the opportunity to stray from those particular roles very rarely. He was easily typecast, as his voice and features didn't lend themselves to much else.

October 9, 2012

Alien Surgery

by Brian Agler

Independence Day (1996) - dir. Roland Emmerich

Independence Day is jazz, a uniquely American piece of art. It is the genre exemplified; the 90s action film, complete with the large multi-ethnic cast, fantastic one-liners, jingoist thematics, and explosions (they blow up the goddamn White House!). Independence Day is many things, but what it is not is a horror movie. Yet it is still terrifying.

October 6, 2012

The Incinerator

by Mike Yarsky

Toy Story 3 (2010) - dir. Lee Unkrich

In Toy Story 3, the abyss is not the absence of light, or a dark void of nothingness. It is a vibrant ball of energy, a virtually active participant in the horror that is, quite simply, the passage of time through life. If Pixar ever makes a Toy Story 4, I can imagine it only as the slow psychological unwinding of PTSD sufferers. Rather than a light-hearted romp, it seems the most reasonable way to further the arc of Woody and Buzz is to watch them panic at the sight of a fire, or cover their ears every morning as the garbage is collected.

Plumbing Problems

by Allen Irwin

The Conversation (1974) - dir. Francis For Coppola

(Sorry for the split videos, the whole scene wasn't online in one piece)

Hotel rooms are meant to be anonymously comforting and reassuringly sterile: spaces where cleanliness stands for safety; a reminder that you have been provided for, that you are in good hands. They assume a trust that benign systems and structures will insulate you from harm and preserve your privacy. This trust, however, is usually extremely fragile; there is a reason so many horror movies take place in hotels.

The Haunted House in the Clouds

by Mark Paglia

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - dir. Irvin Kershner

The Empire Strikes Back is filled from beginning to end with monsters ready to leap out at us. A routine tauntaun patrol ends with a mauling by a wampa. The sanctuary of an asteroid cave turns out to be a hungry space slug. Landing on a swamp planet to find a Jedi master gets your trusty R2 unit immediately swallowed and spat up by who knows what creature lurking beneath the water’s surface. And the hollow under some trees on said planet…well, there’s a reason Yoda says you’ll be scared if you enter. But none of these incidents match the extended haunted-house sequence that is Cloud City.

The Opening of the Ark

by James Folta

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - dir. Steven Spielberg

To me, one of the great horror scenes is the orgy of face-melting at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. For those of us brought up in more secular households, a brush with the biblical can often be a reminder of just how rad the Bible can be. Raiders was one of the first films I truly loved and probably as a result, one of the first times I took notice of the Book of books. Looking at the Ark in the Bible now (read: Wikipedia’s filtration of such), I'm not surprised that it's the center of an action-adventure film. The Ark is the pivot-point around which excitement swirls: the city of Jericho falls by the mere parading of the Ark for a week, always wrapped, always concealed from the eyes of the priests. The Philistines steal it and everywhere they tote it, pain and death follow until they finally lash it to a cart and send it on it's way unaccompanied. The Ark parts seas, it kills people, it bends and decapitates statutes (Dagon in Ashdod – even the names seem ripped from Slayer songs.)

September 22, 2012

Everyday Horror

by Allen Irwin

ParaNorman (2012) - dir. Chris Butler & Sam Fell

Everything in the little town of Blithe Hollow is slightly off-kilter. Its inhabitants are mild grotesques who typically sport an angular, misshapen brow or oddly bloated torso. Witch-themed outlets like Witchy Wieners and a Witch Casino dot the townscape. And, at least for an eleven year-old boy named Norman, ghosts float idly down the street waiting to wish you good morning.

ParaNorman is the second feature from Laika, whose hand-crafted brand of stop-motion was last seen in Coraline. Proof positive that traditional styles of animation still have staying power, ParaNorman is an aesthetic delight, with production design worthy of an "I Spy" book and just the right touch of the uncanny. The fluidity of motion achieved through advances in technology (such as its groundbreaking use of color 3D printers) goes 99% of the way towards creating a seamless world, leaving just enough awareness of its artificiality for the whole thing to feel slightly fantastic and creepy (like the Brothers Quay for kids).

September 11, 2012

In the Realm of Senso

by Allen Irwin

Senso (1954) - dir. Luchino Visconti

In 1954, after three films with strong ties to neorealism, Luchino Visconti turned his idiosyncratic eye to a very different kind of movie - the historical epic. Senso, his first color film, unfurls with grand gestures and a painter’s eye for color and composition. Like the turbulent classical period of Italy’s history he was depicting (the 1860s), Visconti directs, even conducts, with an operatic flair and a romantic lilt. Senso is history filtered through the amber hued tones of Italian Technicolor and the narrow lens of a single, yet influential, love affair.

Senso’s overwhelming romanticism and melodramatic use of visuals demands a reaction that utilizes the same elements - so in lieu of a traditional essay, a visual montage with annotations is in order.

July 10, 2012

Behold Leviathan

by Allen Irwin

A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Leviathan, the upcoming film from Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel, explores modern-day commercial fishing through a cosmic, yet intimate and immersive (not to mention submersive) lens. After viewing the trailer (above), I appropriately felt like a sailor perched high atop the mast-head of a ship, glimpsing the spout of a great whale on the horizon. Operating like a short film or a proof of concept piece, the trailer takes us on a short four minute journey through the eyes of the fishing bait to a final reveal of the ship itself, relentlessly pounding its way through the ocean.

June 26, 2012

Notes on The Room - Towards a Theory of Bad Movies

by Allen Irwin

The Room (2003) - dir. Tommy Wiseau

I love bad movies. Even though my “serious” film viewing is often neglected (much to my ever mounting anxiety) in favor of films that ultimately seem… less than important, I keep coming back to the Bad Movie. Recently, when the urge to watch a bad movie comes knocking on my door, I’ve given in without much of a fight because bad movies are just so much fun. Not only that, they are also simply astounding, logic-defying and incredulity-challenging. Can a set look that fake? How can a line of dialogue be delivered so badly? Can a plot hole be that vast?

If nothing else, bad movies inspire in us a kind of terrifying awe (an ailment best treated by viewing them with a hardy group of friends). Just as the great paintings of the past draw admiration and contemplation; just as the grand edifices of skyscrapers inspire in us a sense of wonder; just as the immensity of the pyramids or the exquisite detail of classical sculpture make us marvel at the ingenuity of a more distant time – a bad movie brings to mind the same root of fascination, the same realization both mundane and mysterious, horrifying and humbling: someone made that.