Category Archives: Film

The Monster Maven’s Guide to Recent Horror Trailers: The Good, the Bad, and THE VVITCH

Last night, the moon over the highway was heavy, huge and orange. Autumn approaches, and with the changing of the seasons comes a flux of horror film trailers. Some are chilling and exciting, and others are already demonstrating weak points.

The Visit, September 11

Say what you want about M. Night Shyamalan’s continued downward spiral (are we just saying that his early movies were a fluke at this point?), but The Happening was absolutely hilarious. I’m not sure Shyamalan had any idea how funny Marky Mark’s line delivery was going to be, but I personally enjoyed every minute of the movie, although its appeal was unintentional. I think The Visit, though obviously full of cliches, has the potential to be a really fun night at the movies. (Admittedly, a creepy old woman scratching a wall is like a copy of a copy of a copy now, with the most recent iteration being The Taking of Deborah Logan).

Goodnight Mommy, September 11

Are the boys evil? Is the mom evil? Are they all crazy? Why don’t the boys react at all when their bandaged mother turns around from…idly scratching the wall (why is this image everywhere)? I love when a horror trailer poses enough questions to be interesting without looking pointless. I’m sort of at a loss for words with this one, because there’s no way it could be bad. Even if it ends up not making sense, the cinematography alone gives me chills.

Cooties, September 18

I’m cheating a bit here because I’ve already seen Cooties. It’s…a rental. As an addition to the horror-comedy genre, it does pretty well, but something goes awry with the screenplay in the third act, and it sloppily falls apart on itself. Worth it just to watch Rainn Wilson, whom I’m still rooting for (I think I’m the only person alive who actually watched all of Backstrom)? Yeah, possibly.

Before I Wake, September 25

I have questions. Why does this trailer make the movie feel more like a boring fairy tale than a horror movie, which it’s being billed as? Where has Kate Bosworth been since she made my favorite movie when I was fourteen, Blue Crush? What’s with the creepy adoption stories; why is that a trope? Why do we get 1:30 into the trailer before exposition calls out what we already realized in the first scene? Also, this movie’s really going to enter the sleeping-is-scary realm although we already have Nightmare on Elm Street? And finally, why didn’t they get Guillermo del Toro to direct the daylights out of this?

Knock, Knock October 9

Oh god, they’re going to tack this movie’s promotional work onto the Ashley Madison hack, aren’t they? My only other thought here is “chocolate with sprinkles” is the most engaging and memorable part of this trailer. Staying far away from this one.

The Final Girls, October 9

I already posted a mini-review of this trailer on Twitter, and the film’s screenwriter was not at all happy about it:

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I stand by my opinion, though. Taissa looks incredibly charming, and I’m liking the aesthetic as far as colors (Wet Hot American Summer vibes) but the satirical angle on this looks a little…stale. What horror fanatic has been waiting to see slow motion lampooned as a trope of the genre? Didn’t we just fawn over Cabin in the Woods (and rightfully so)? The cast in this one will probably elevate it into being entertaining, but so far I’m not too optimistic.

Crimson Peak, October 16

Please excuse me for being far less critical of Crimson Peak than the other trailer on this list, because I truly DGAF. It’s the almighty del Toro back in action, shaping a vampire story with fists full of lush red silk, and he’s draping it over the crackling, creepy sexual tension that buzzes between Mia Wasikowska (who has natural ghost-face), and Tom Hiddleston. I am so, so here for an old fashioned ghostly Hiddleston-horror vehicle, post-Only Lovers Left Alive. I want to drown in the costuming alone.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, October 23

The gimmicks! Love ’em! I don’t care if this is a cheap Poltergeist imitation full of jump scares. You had me at interacting with a twenty-year old video tape in real time. You also had me at fabulous uncle-stache:

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Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, October 23

My brother is a Boy Scout, and the organization has always struck me as vaguely creepy, so I’m intrigued by the set-up here. You can already tell that this needs much funnier writing, and more memorable leads. If these scout-boys were jeering at each other a la Superbad, I’d be hooked, but they’re not. They’re barely saying anything other than describing what we’re already seeing. This probably should have been campier, especially if the plot involves boy scouts vs zombie cats. Commit, dudes. Commit to the tone by hiring joke writers, or don’t bother.

Victor Frankenstein, November 25

First of all, I love how Daniel Radcliffe’s career is unfolding into unnerving territory. I see you, Harry Potter, you want to creep us all out, now that you’re free of the wizard franchise. Although The Woman in Black bored me, Horns was pretty good, and Radcliffe has a nice ability to lock into a sinister undertone. His under-eye bags alone are very otherworldly looking, and they’re in full effect here. He’s apparently playing Igor, which is…cool.

Spotting Andrew Scott (an absolutely masterful Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock), in this trailer has me curious, although the dark-pop version of The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” is more than a little cheesy. As long as the film really hones in on the exceptional body horror in the Frankenstein story, I’ll be a fan.


Although these three films were released earlier this year at select festivals and indie theaters, I haven’t gotten a chance to see them yet. I’ve got my Fandango alert set to Boston, though, and I’ll be the first in line if they open in my li’l city. Alternately, I’ll also keep searching for them on my Roku. What’s disappointing is that the following films, in my opinion, have the most exciting horror trailers I’ve seen recently, and I haven’t even been able to see the movies:

We Are Still Here, January 2015 (limited release)

Old-school late-70s vibe, a la It Follows? CHECK. Creepy ol’ frozen wasteland setting, a la Fargo? CHECK! Horror movie protagonists of a non-traditional age? DOUBLE CHECK! Whatever the hell is going on between 1:22 and 1:24? CH-CH-CHECK! This one comes from the folks who made Starry Eyes, so you better believe I’m ready.

The VVitch, January 2015 (Sundance)

Alright, everybody, pack it up! There’s no sense in making a horror film for the rest of the year, because this trailer is so stunningly superior to all the rest that it’s almost laughable. I swear to G-d I dreamt this movie up for myself. The baa-baa sounds, the fact that it’s set in New England, the use of Game of Thrones actors, whatever’s going on with that goat transforming in the field, and on top of everything else, an actually scary witch movie?? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Get out of my way so I can see this thing.

NINA FOREVER, March 2015

What I found most intriguing about NINA FOREVER is the fact that it’s billed as a horror-comedy-romance. My favorite horror-romance is, of course, The Fly, so this has big shoes to fill. This one also strikes close to home for me, because the last guy I dated had an obsessive, dead ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t leave us alone.

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Gore as an Emotional Device

This is going to be FILLED with spoilers.

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The late Oberyn Martell represented righteous anger, rebellion and justice in a story marked by oppression and fear.

Although I consider myself a big fan of horror movies, I can’t stomach the senseless use of gory images. I don’t find blood-spattering funny, and I don’t enjoy watching death scenes that are meant to feel vindictive or cathartic. In filmmaking, using gore as a narrative device is a dangerous choice. Depending on the context, a gory scene (especially a death scene) can appeal to either the best or the worst nature in an audience. When it fails, a movie can end up in anonymous oblivion, joining the ranks of forgettable gore-porn and torture-porn films. When it succeeds, though…those are the scenes that stay with you. I’m always impressed with (and harrowed by) the choice to not only kill off a like-able character, but to absolutely mangle them in their last moments. What motivates scenes like this?

Let’s start with Oberyn Martell.

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I watched this episode with my roommates, and we all reacted EXACTLY the way Oberyn’s wife (lover?) did.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback: The Resilience of Women in Horror

This post makes double sense, because I’m returning to my monster blog after a long hiatus!09-unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-cult-bunker.w1440.h957.2x The Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” premiered this week. I haven’t given it a try yet, because the trailer felt pretty manic to me, but the plot is intriguing. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, of The Office and Blowjob Girl fame) plays a young woman who was kidnapped by cult members and held in a bunker for fifteen years. Although it’s obviously not a horror comedy, I really wish that it was.

Here’s the thing about damsels in distress: A study led by the Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that women who had suffered traumatic injuries were 14% less likely to die post-surgery than men with equivalent wounds. These women also experienced fewer complications after their operations.

A protagonist’s ability to absorb stimuli and respond in an interesting way is tantamount to any story, so it’s confusing that so many horror films star female characters who aren’t capable of doing much. I’ll venture to say that male audiences became accustomed to watching the female form in duress throughout the development of horror. Contemporary projects have allowed us to pile on the gore, spraying the blood of innocents all over female protagonists while giving them something interesting to do in response. To me, there’s nothing more interesting and iconic than the determined face of a woman who’s been driven to the brink, whether by monsters or a slasher-murderer or some kind of ghost or demon, her eyes still steely with rage. Let’s see some examples!

youre-next-sharni-vinson-2Thank you, universe, for giving us 2011’s You’re Next, a horror movie that succeeds mainly because the writers tweak a single element in the story: the central character, Erin, is a sweet, unassuming, polite and loving girlfriend dating a guy who is clearly a loser with self esteem issues, but she’s also the only character who leaps into action when the house she’s staying in is attacked by masked murderers. There is a reason for her brutality, which is afforded to us in the second half of the movie, and the explanation is acceptable, although I would have preferred a character who just rocks at killing her way out of a dangerous situation.

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Out Here: morality and conjecture in the contemporary space drama

A friend of mine once made a statement about space films on her Twitter account, and I’ve been mulling it around in my mind ever since. She said, “All I want is a space movie that doesn’t ask any larger questions,” which calls to mind all the outer space morality plays we’ve witnessed in the last couple decades.

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Elysium, or “Why Was Jodie Foster’s Bad Accent Necessary To Make Her a Villain?”, didn’t so much pose a larger question as it answered one question over and over, really loudly. Class warfare is really hard, everybody! Also everyone deserves access to healthcare!

I thought the most interesting part of Elysium was the enigmatic Wagner Moura’s tattooed, lame-legged character Spider, because his role in the VERY straight-forward morality play wasn’t as boring as the unapologetically cruel Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) or the unapologetically good-hearted Max (Matt Damon). Without characters like Spider gumming up the works with their conflicting, selfish objectives, a space drama like Elysium ends up so simplistically rendered that it acts as a disservice to its setting. I mean, it’s deep space for crying out loud! If ever there was room for a grey area, space is it!

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Birdman, Biutiful and depictions of madness

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I saw Birdman this week. Halfway through the movie, I thought, “Sad-dad guilt? Muted colors? Ghostly figures and secrets? Mental illness as the crux of a failed relationship? This feels a lot like Biutiful.” And then, of course, when the film ended, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name floated onto the screen, and I felt both affirmed and also really, really pretentious.

I’m glad I hadn’t done any research beforehand, because Iñárritu’s films, in my very limited experience, are best taken in without preconceived notions. It’s most exciting to watch a film like Birdman or Biutiful while wondering at every step, “Is this guy going to be okay? How not-okay are we talking here? Murderer not okay? Suicide not okay?”

In both films, Iñárritu defines madness as a person’s inability to make sense of external stimuli, which results in hallucinations, nightmares, or some magical-realistic blend of the two. As both films progress, the otherworldly images experienced only by the protagonist begin to seep into film’s surrounding reality, and the line between real and imagined is blurred. Also in both films, the male protagonist’s daughter either inherits her father’s madness in the final moments of the film, or else comes to understand it in a simple, but jarring, way.

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Concepts of the Underworld Across Religion and Art

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“Leaving Adamantinarx” – Wayne Barlowe

Ancient Egyptians feared a realm in the afterlife called Duat. In the Torah, it is sometimes referred to as sheol, the space beneath the earth that swallowed civilizations whole. Greek mythological tales describe a living underworld of dead souls, pulsating with five rivers as its veins, ruled by Hades and his many-headed hound Cerberus. The Serer religious traditions of several African countries describe Jaaniw, the final resting place of the human soul. Unfortunate souls who cannot find Jaaniw are perpetually lost to the ether, though they do not, as in the case of most other religions, burn or suffer.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8
“But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would […] taste the doom of burning.” Quran 22:19

The concept of a righteous, punishment-based afterlife is certainly not unique to Western religions, though the method of escaping the gates of Hell has become more specific and streamlined in the wake of evangelical Christianity. While earlier Christian belief describes access to heaven as based on the deeds of a woman during her lifetime, modern Christianity attributes the salvation of the eternal soul to a relationship with Christ the Redeemer. Similarly, eternal punishment in Islam is enacted on members of other religions, or as the Quran calls them, “those who disbelieve.”

So Christians say hell is for non-Christians, and Muslims believe it’s solely the fate of non-Muslims. Regardless of how we supposedly get there, what is hell, and what has hell been, in cultural imagination since its inception?

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Hell as a multi-tiered labyrinth, its levels separated by the type and severity of the eternal prisoners’ transgressions, was introduced in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In this epic poem, the nine realms of hell loosely follow the Catholic seven deadly sins, offering specific discipline for sinners of all kinds. The quote supposedly written on the gates of hell in The Divine Comedy has followed us through contemporary art and fiction, and specific segments have even reached a certain level of cliche.

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The Gates of Hell, sculpted by Rodin

“Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope — Ye Who Enter Here

In Christian tradition, hell is not only a resting place and torture chamber for the souls of non-believers, but it also serves as a living realm for Satan (the fallen angel) and his own horde of angels (sometimes referred to as demons, or Legion). Classical and contemporary paintings have attempted to illustrate this horde of creatures with interesting results.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” depicts hell as a comedy club, something I’m not opposed to.

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Wayne Barlowe depicts a hierarchy of demons in his paintings, suggesting they share a monstrous culture.

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Zdzisław Beksiński depicts hell as a place of torturous silence, and stresses the horror of absence over chaos.

Disney’s animated feature Fantasia depicts an underworld ruled by a single titan in its sequence, Night on Bald Mountain. It goes without saying, perhaps, that this animation scared the daylights out of me when I was a child.

 

Lady-Directed Horror Films

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Ida Lupino, a classic film-era ingenue, directed one of my favorite tense thriller films, “The Hitch-hiker” in 1953. Though it wasn’t her directorial debut, her work in the genre resonates into contemporary horror film-making. While some of the most exciting horror projects directed by women have utilizied issues of femininity and feeling powerless and oppressed as fearful elements, Lupino’s “The Hitch-hiker” is a crime thriller orbiting around the decisions and interactions of men. Richard Koszarski wrote in Oxford University Press, “[Lupino’s] films [as a director] display the obsessions and consistencies of a true auteur. What is most interesting about her films are not her stories of unwed motherhood or the tribulation of career women, but the way in which she uses male actors: particularly in “The Bigamist” and “The Hitchhiker”, Lupino was able to reduce the male to the same sort of dangerous, irrational force that women represented in most male-directed examples of Hollywood film noir.”

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