Monthly Archives: July 2010

Link Dump: #2

This is an old picture of one of my family black cats, the creatively named “Mama Cat.” (Sometimes “Mother Cat”; my sister came up with “Snowball,” but it hasn’t stuck.) Because yes, every link dump is going to have a picture of a kitty. What do you expect? This is Pussy Goes Grrr, after all. That said, upward/onward to this week’s Internet goodies:

  • Tommy Wiseau, the thickly accented director behind the cult film The Room, has been capitalizing on his 15 minutes of ironic fame! First there was the recent trailer for his upcoming project The House That Drips Blood on Alex (cue the “WTF?”); now, with the help of noted bad advice haven AskMen.com, he’s released his Top 10: Tips For Making A Sex Tape. It must be read to be believed.
  • The AV Club’s great Scenic Routes feature covers one of my new favorite movies, Bigger Than Life. That’s right, Nicholas Ray predicted Glenn Beck.
  • The awesome folks over at Dead Homer Society recently talked about the flaws of “Homer’s Enemy” and its overall place in Simpsons history. They hit on several points I missed in my recent analysis, and as a bonus, their piece prompted a letter from Simpsons writer Bill Oakley! It’s a fascinating back-and-forth, and they make some very perceptive arguments, so go over and read it!
  • Amanda Palmer as the emcee in Cabaret! Even ze orchestra is beautiful.
  • Our friends at Happy Postmodernists were commented on by “a kind of legit author.” Fuck yeah.
  • And possibly my new favorite tumblr, FUCK YEAH GIRLS WITH SHORT HAIR.

Ashley adds:

And, as your reward for reading (and hopefully visiting some of) these links, here’s the week’s best search terms used to find this blog: “naked tricycle,” “mt olympus pussy,” “gore & gross shit,” and that eternal question, “is grrr a sexy response to a woman”? I can only say that it depends on the context. Have a good great weekend, all.

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Filed under Cinema, Media, Meta, Personal, Politics, Sexuality

Billy Loves Stu and the Meme of Horror!

We here at Pussy Goes Grrr love community-building. We also love telling our reading audience about our selves and our opinions. And Pax Romano over at the delightfully queer horror blog Billy Loves Stu has provided an outlet for doing just that: it’s The First Ever Billy Loves Stu Meme for Horror Bloggers. (Even though we’re not a horror blog per se, this whole place is infused with the spirit of horror. So STFU.) So, without further ado, here’s our response (us being Ashley & Andreas) to this getting-to-know-you FAQ/survey/meme…

1: In Ten Words or Less, Describe Your Blog:

Angry feminism meets culture-analyzing acumen and horror movie love.

2: During What Cinematic Era Where you Born?
A: The Classic Horror Era (late 30’s to 40’s)
B: The Atomic Monster/Nuclear Angst Era (the late 40’s through 50’s)
C: The Psycho Era ( Early 60’s)
D: The Rosemary’s Baby Era (Mid to Late 60’s)
E: The Exorcism Era (Early to mid 70’s)
F: The Halloween Era (Late 70’s to Early 80’s)
G: The Slasher Era (Mid to late 80’s) (Ashley)
H: The Self Referential/Post Modern Era (1990 to 1999) (Andreas)

[We both have some issues with these chronological breakdowns, however, primarily in the later years: e.g., wouldn’t the “Halloween Era” just be the part of the “Slasher Era”?]

3: The Carrie Compatibility Question:
(gay men and straight women – make your choice from section A)
A: Billy Nolan or Tommy Ross, who would you take to the prom?
(straight guys and lesbians – make your choice from section B)
B: Sue Snell or Chris Hargensen, who would you take to the prom?

Same answer for both us: Sissy Spacek and only Sissy Spacek.

4: You have been given an ungodly amount of money, and total control of a major motion picture studio – what would your dream Horror project be?

Andreas: If  that “ungodly amount of money” can be used to fund the resurrection of the dead, I say we zombify the corpse of F.W. Murnau, give him whatever money’s left over, and watch him go. That’s my dream horror project.

Ashley: Due to massive amounts of genetic tampering in local chickens, one chicken mutates into the dreaded CHICKENCLIT! It’s a clit! It’s a chicken! It’s 50 STORIES TALL! This movie would be a beautiful abomination and would tank miserably before going on to become a cult classic 20 years later.

5: What horror film “franchise” that others have embraced, left you cold?

Andreas: I’m not really a “franchise” sort of guy – I’m pretty insistent on quality over quantity, and rarely find myself watching sequels beyond “II.” By way of example, I didn’t much care for Friday the 13th Part I, and am in no hurry to see anything past that.

Ashley: All of Scream and all of Friday the 13th. FUCK THOSE MOVIES.

6:  Is Michael Bay the Antichrist?

Michael Bay sucks. Damien is the Antichrist.

7: Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Frankenstein Monster – which one of these classic villains scares you, and why?

Andreas: They’re all scary, each in their own special way. But whereas the Monster is more pitiful and Dracula’s more aristocratic, the Wolf Man can tear your fucking throat out and wake up the next morning, as if from a drunken binge, with no memory of the event. Poor, poor Larry Talbot.

Ashley: Lord Summerisle, fersure. He may not be classic, but he’s retro! Also, Billy. He will fuck your Christmas all up.


8: Tell me about a scene from a NON HORROR Film that scares the crap out of you:

Ashley: The rape scenes in Rashomon (1950) and The Virgin Spring (1960). The brutality experienced by the female characters in both films is very scary. On a lighter note, Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is one scary motherfucker, and not just when he turns into the murderous, demon-eyed toon.

9: Baby Jane Hudson invites you over to her house for lunch.  What do you bring?

As long as she’s got enough dead rats and pet birds for both of us, there’s no reason to turn this into a potluck.

10: So, between you and me, do you have any ulterior motives for blogging?  Come, on you can tell me, it will be our little secret, I won’t tell a soul.

Andreas: I’ve never told anyone this before, but… I have an earnest desire to share my thoughts about film with the world, and to read the opinions of others. Now shhhh! We can’t let this get out.

11: What would you have brought to Rosemary Woodhouse’s baby shower?

Do they sell infant contact lenses?

12: Godzilla vs The Cloverfield Monster, who wins?

Neither of us have seen Cloverfield, but I’m just going to take a guess and say that Godzilla wins. Because you know what? Godzilla wins pretty much everything, from Godzilla vs. Megalon to the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Plus, he’s got half a century of experience.

13: If you found out that Rob Zombie was reading your blog, what would you post in hopes that he read it?

Ashley: Rob Zombie, if he just happened to be a long-time reader, would already be pissed off about me calling him an asshole for remaking films that don’t need to be remade here.

14: What is your favorite NON HORROR FILM, and why?

Andreas: Favorite, schmavorite; I can never narrow my preferences down to absolutes. But, uh, I’m very fond of The Third Man, Johnny Guitar, and anything by Fassbinder.

Ashley: A lot of my all-time favorite films ARE horror films e.g. Repulsion and Let the Right One In. These movies hold their own next to any other movie of any other genre. But if I had to choose some favorite non-horror, I love Miyazaki’s films (and even some of them have slight touches of creepiness) and lots of other animated films (like the aforementioned Roger Rabbit). Double Indemnity is one of my favorite films and so is Gaslight (which also has touches of horror) and I love, love, love Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

15: If blogging technology did not exist, what would you be doing

Andreas: Pursuing my college education without distraction. Jesus, how boring would that be?

Ashley: Since I don’t spend ALL of my time blogging, I’d probably just spend (even more) time perusing the interwebz.

I hope you enjoyed this intimate look into our creepy little minds. Thanks to Billy Loves Stu for the meme; go check it out!

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Perfectly Cromulent Analysis: Bart Sells His Soul

Just before the month ends, here’s July’s analysis of The Simpsons‘ brilliant, multifaceted artistry. (All previous entries can be viewed here.) Perhaps The Simpsons‘ most dazzling feat was its ability to emanate such crusty cynicism while retaining a core of profound sincerity. And I’m not referring to the saccharine sincerity of sitcom “very special episodes,” either; I’m talking about moments that disclosed what the show’s writers really believed in. They were moments of vulnerability suggesting that the Simpsons weren’t just cartoonish punching bags, but real people with real beliefs, desires, and fears. “Bart Sells His Soul,” which hails from the beginning of the seventh season (and with it, the Oakley/Weinstein era), is 20 full minutes suffused with this same vulnerability. It’s about a young boy’s spiritual self-discovery through “suffering and thought and prayer,” as Lisa puts it. Even for a show as adventurous and groundbreaking as The Simpsons, that’s pretty heavy stuff.

The show, however, acquits itself impressively with an unflinching gaze into the essence of Bart. Yes, Bart: he of the chalkboard gags, the skateboard, and the mouthy t-shirt slogans, the envy of every kid alive in the 1990s. But, of course, beneath the too-cool-for-school posturing, Bart has always been just another 10-year-old, and “Bart Sells His Soul” even-handedly interrogates the disparity between image and reality. The episode opens with a brazen prank as Bart hands First Church of Springfield parishioners the lyrics to a “hymn” entitled “In the Garden of Eden” – really Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” a 17-minute relic of psychedelic rock. The disarming audacity with which he deceives the congregation epitomizes, as the French would say, the “Bartesque.” He tricks the churchgoers into eating his shorts, and then tells them not to have a cow, man.

Reverend Timothy Lovejoy, however, does nothing but have a cow. He’s Springfield’s envoy of tradition-bound organized religion and therefore a major figure of patriarchal authority. He’s also, in keeping with the show’s anti-authoritarian satirical outlook, ridiculously incompetent. From the outset, he’s gullible and out of touch. “Wait a minute,” he opines to himself, an eyebrow raised, “this sounds like rock and/or roll!” After his flock has been humiliated and exhausted, he takes the church’s youngsters aside and feeds them a Mad Libs-style script of fire and brimstone so as to force a confession.1 But Bart repeats the lines right back with an air of blasé disinterest. To Bart, Lovejoy’s threats of eternal damnation are just as impotent as Principal Skinner’s threats of detention, and it’s both because he’s an untamable rebel, à la Brando in The Wild One, and because these patriarchs are so neurotic and hypocritical.

As voiced by Harry Shearer, Lovejoy is a model of Middle American self-righteousness. His every sentence has the same pompous intonations, rendered ineffectual by his slight lisp, and his face is usually furrowed in the same disapproving frown. He mechanically advocates an impersonal brand of Christianity; it’s not hard to see why Bart dismisses his sermons and, with them, the adult world’s belief in the soul. Bart, a veteran trickster, is too sharp to be so easily duped.2 Milhouse, however, is just sheepish enough to give in, and Bart is outraged when he lets faith trump friendship. The two of them have an argument that brings questions of personal identity down to a 10-year-old’s level – to hell with the mind/body divide; what if you die while in a submarine? Incensed at his friend’s willingness to swallow adult lies, Bart exclaims, “Listen: you don’t have a soul, I don’t have a soul, there’s no such thing as a soul!” And to demonstrate his prioritization of money, a pragmatic, real-world concern, over religious dogma, which he regards as nothing but a collection of fairy tales,3 Bart strikes the titular bargain.

The first challenge to Bart’s cynical materialism comes from his sagacious sister. Unlike Lovejoy, Lisa doesn’t have any hypocritical motivations to espouse the concept of the soul, and unlike Milhouse, she doesn’t confront him with a mess of folk beliefs and fear-driven superstitions. Instead, she has her faith in the soul’s symbolic value, which is deeply rooted in her sense of self rather than any specific belief system. Bart and Lisa’s conversation in the driveway is really the kernel of the episode’s deepest philosophical exploration: here are two children in the America of the ’90s, where all traditional authorities (government, businesses, media, schools, churches)4 have been thoroughly discredited. So what do they put their faith in, and how do they define themselves as human beings? Whereas Lisa has her own simple, functional theory of the self,5 Bart has pranks and cold hard cash – his is a reactive ethos, as he prefers to beat society within its own system rather than formulate one of his own. He comes to regret his hubris, however, after the rest of the episode delivers a concussive wallop of spiritual horror.

Ashley told me that she once thought “Bart Sells His Soul” was a Treehouse of Horror episode, and it’s understandable given the events that round off the first act. Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II growl and hiss at Bart, respectively, with no apparent motivation; the Kwik-E-Mart’s automatic door admits the pious Rod and Tod Flanders, but not him; and he can’t even fog up glass with his breath. It all plays out very ambiguously, with only the subtle, subjective implication that these are the consequences of selling one’s soul. Its primary effect isn’t outright fear, but more a feeling of unsettledness. As Bart grumbles when his face smacks against the door, “This is getting weird.” The final, unsettling straw is when Bart loses his ability to enjoy Itchy and Scratchy. Lisa quotes Pablo Neruda: “Laughter is the language of the soul.” I love Lisa’s role in this episode: she’s at once the precocious, argumentative little sister and the voice of reason, sincerely worried about her brother’s well-being.

She tests Bart’s capacity for laughter by making Homer trip and get his head caught in the stairs. While Bart would normally be the one causing such mischief, he’s now incapable of enjoying it, and Lisa concludes, “I think you really did lose your soul.” As before, in Lisa’s reckoning it doesn’t matter if the soul is “physically real,” or if Bart’s sense of humor is merely a psychological (and therefore not “real”) casualty of his exchange. The point is that Bart’s mistake, in giving up a part of himself, has left him unable to properly interact with the outside world. He returns to Milhouse, who’s undergoing no such tribulation but is instead carrying on with his childhood; unsympathetic to Bart’s angst, he offers to sell the soul back only at a wildly inflated price. Facing a potentially permanent existential quandary, Bart can now see beyond the petty, childish dealings that were once his métier.

In a scene that’s at once touching and disturbing, Marge detects something “off” about Bart’s hug. She considers the usual diagnoses for a troubled 10-year-old – “it’s not fear of nuclear war… it’s not swim test anxiety…” – but when Bart suggests a missing soul, she blindly dismisses it: “Aw, honey, you’re not a monster.” These dead-on mother/son interactions are some of those vulnerable moments I was speaking of: Marge does her best to assuage her son’s very palpable fears, but inadvertently exacerbates the situation. Here, The Simpsons is speaking to a very critical youth/adult disconnect. It’s not the jaded mistrust that characterizes Bart’s relationship with Lovejoy or Skinner; it’s a painful breakdown within the core of the family. And it has none of the mawkish sentiment that abounds in some of the weaker family-centric episodes. It’s just a moment of very real emotion and very dark humor, as Bart’s mother implicitly but unintentionally calls him a soulless monster and turns out the light.

Then we get one of the series’ great dream sequences, complete with pink, Seussian landscapes, green skies, and eerily sweet music. All the other children are playing with their souls, as represented by phantasmal blue outlines of themselves; they jump into rowboats and head toward an Oz-like emerald city on the horizon. Bart, however, is left alone – so here, the loss of a soul becomes the loss of a friend, and Bart is condemned to be left behind. This dream really crystallizes the episode’s child’s-eye-view of the soul. It’s not about what adult authorities think the soul is; it’s what Bart learns for himself, through his anguish. His long nightmare lends him insight into the soul’s true meaning: it’s about identity, belonging, humor, companionship. As the third act confirms, “Bart Sells His Soul” is really about how Bart earns his soul.

Like “Homer’s Enemy,” this episode has a much, much lighter subplot to complement the main story’s existential heft. In it, Moe converts his once-dank tavern into a tacky family restaurant. The two storylines intersect when Homer takes the family to Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag. Lisa says a spiteful grace in which she emphasizes the word soul, prompting Bart to run off into the night, and he enters the final stage of his grueling spiritual odyssey. There’s little real analysis to be done on the Moe subplot; suffice it to say that it’s a much more expected sitcom story, and its easy jokes definitely alleviate some of the episode’s overall bleakness. As it approaches its climax, it gets very bleak: Bart faces one terrifying anomaly after another as he descends into Springfield’s desolate urban depths,6 from an exterminator clad in a Vader-like suit to a cackling street cleaner. Finally, he runs into Ralph Wiggum and begs desperately for Ralph’s soul. It’s so bizarre, albeit strangely plausible, that it’s easy to miss the frighteningly real portrayal of a babbling schizophrenic in the same scene.

Bart’s attempt to track down Milhouse proves pointless, however, as Milhouse has already resold Bart’s soul so as to purchase the most ephemeral, meaningless toys of all – ALF pogs. Bart visits the buyer, Comic Book Guy, who reports that an unnamed party bought it, and that they “were most interested in having possession of little boy’s soul.” Here, the languages of preteen consumerism and spiritual self-identification are oddly but seamlessly mixed. Rather than being just the product of obsolete superstitions, Bart learns that the soul is surprisingly relevant even in a world where the al-ighty ollar7 is the end goal of all transactions. Finally, he resorts to a long, earnest prayer: “I just want it back. Please? I hope you can hear this…” and with that, Lisa gives him back his soul. Note that I don’t say “gives him back his sheet of paper.” By this point, that paper has been so imbued with meaning that, as far as the viewer’s concerned, it is his soul. The episode ends with Bart dreaming again – but this time, he has his soul as a rowing companion, and they ram Martin’s boat. Bart has fought and prayed, and now he has his self back, prankish and rebellious as ever.

“Bart Sells His Soul” is both a child’s fable of loss and retrieval and a mature rumination on postmodern spiritual bankruptcy. With Bart, we see adult hypocrisies as ripe for skewering, but we also endure an episode’s worth of self-inflicted suffering, culminating in a newfound humility, and a gratitude for one’s own identity. It’s cathartic without being melodramatic, instead attaining its considerable emotional pull in the traditional Simpsons way: through nonstop jokes, which are sometimes brutal and dark, but still spot-on. The episode is also a tour de force for Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart, who shows impressive range and accuracy in capturing the scope and detail of a 10-year-old’s worldview. “Bart Sells His Soul” is unequaled in the rest of the series for its fearlessness in stripping away the façade and revealing to us who Bart truly is, soul and all. And that ain’t not bad.

So, what do you think of this episode? And which one should I tackle next? Leave any suggestions in the comment box below.

1 I especially liked the “murderers and single mothers” line as a jab at Lovejoy’s outdated but indignant worldview.

2 Unless, of course, the religious authorities lower themselves to his level, as with the Li’l Bastard Brainwashing Kit in “The Joy of Sect.”

3 They’re lies and fairy tales, however, with very pragmatic, real-world rewards, as the episode bitingly demonstrates when Milhouse asks, “What would [religions] have to gain?” and we cut to Lovejoy dumping collection baskets into a coin-sorting machine.

4 Read: Quimby, Burns, Brockman, Skinner, and Lovejoy.

5 This presages her conversion to Buddhism, but her beliefs are stated so much more elegantly (and less stridently) here than they would be “She of Little Faith” and subsequent episodes.

6 The episode’s writer, Greg Daniels, says that Bart’s nocturnal trials were partially inspired by Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and it shows, including just a touch of the same manically black comedy.

7 See “Team Homer.” I couldn’t resist.

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Satanists and Suspense in The House of the Devil

[The following was written by both of us as part of the Final Girl Film Club; go check them out. Also note that spoilers are abundant, like demonic rituals on the night of a lunar eclipse.]


Andreas:

The suspense is killing me. I hope it lasts. —Gwendolyn, The Importance of Being Earnest

Pity the poor babysitter. Half the time, she’s strung out on LSD and roasts the baby like a Christmas ham; the rest of the time, she’s harassed by psychos calling from inside the house. Or else she dies, and nobody tells mom about it. Or she’s being prepped, again like a Christmas ham, for the satanic rite to end all satanic rites. That last scenario is the crux of Ti West’s The House of the Devil, a film that revels in spinning mundane straw into horror gold. Most movies about unsuspecting young women and satanist covens descend quickly into a slew of impalements and beheadings. West gives us a suspenseful status quo, then holds it, and holds it, and holds it, ratcheting our anxiety up higher with each phone call or mention of an eclipse. Explicit clues as to what’s really going on are sparse, especially for poor Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), our plucky and lovable heroine; in short, it’s one of the most thrilling, titillating, and fun horror movies of the past decade.

One of The House of the Devil‘s major assets is its simplicity. Both its title and plot feel generic, as if they were copied from the 1980s Horror Pastiche Handbook, but West breathes new life into them. And not in a creepy voodoo way, either. No, he does it more in a “this man is one of the most innovative writer/directors currently working in horror” way. House is just about Samantha, a cash-strapped college girl who gives babysitting a shot. When the situation gets weird – i.e., the old couple hiring her are ambiguously creepy motherfuckers, and there’s no baby – her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) recommends that she leave, but alas, the prospect of paying for one month’s rent is just too tempting. The rest of the film is just Samantha biding her time… until, as it must, the coven of satanists drugs her for a bloody, pentagram-filled human sacrifice.

So, at least superficially, House has all the earmarks of a typical slasher movie or urban legend: a girl, a house, and the devil. But it’s also one of the least crass, most subtle variations ever done on those themes. Take the first portion of the movie, for example. Not much happens: Samantha confirms her new living place, goes jogging, calls about the babysitting job, waits around, meets with Megan for pizza, etc. But it’s compelling, mostly because West squeezes in so much dense observational detail. Yes, detail about the ’80s (a decade I didn’t live through) but also just detail about normal, stressful college life. It’s in the frostiness and desolation of the campus in the morning. It’s in the way Samantha lounges around on the front steps of the student center. And it’s in her getting sexiled, as well as her mildly contentious relationship with her roommate. It all forms the very realistic groundwork for the heebie-jeebies that fill the rest of the movie.

So in addition to its simplicity, one of House‘s greatest virtues is its plausibility. And for a movie whose plot is basically Halloween crossed with Rosemary’s Baby, that’s saying something. Just by knowing the movie’s title, we expect bad shit to go down, so West engages in the most economical, masterful kinds of suggestion. A desperate voice on a pay phone takes on a sinister pall. And when that voice belongs to the seemingly harmless (maybe too harmless) Mr. Ulman, to whose secluded house1 the girls journey, we infer something sinister about the whole gosh-darn situation. Of course, objectively weird remarks like “I promise to make this as painless for you as possible” don’t exactly help his case. But the age difference factors in here, too: on the surface, Mr. Ulman and his wife (played by cult film mainstay/total fox Mary Woronov) just feel a little, you know, out of touch, unable to relate to today’s youth. So maybe that‘s why he reminds Samantha about ordering pizza several times. And it’s not because the pizza’s actually going to drug her in time for the sacrifice. Maybe?

The bulk of the film, in which Samantha mucks around the house trying not to get bored, is pure genius. In its immaculate subtlety, it’s like Robert Wise’s The Haunting times infinity. Part of the reason is that Samantha doesn’t know her movie is called The House of the Devil, and we do, so of course we’re going to yell, “Don’t go up there! Get out of that house!” to the consternation of our sleeping neighbors. She’s not stupid; she knows she was taking a risk by staying there, as she admits to Megan. But she seriously does need the money, and nothing about the deal conclusively says, “You’re going to get blood poured on you through a goat skull.” It says something more like, “This old couple is kind of odd, and they shouldn’t have lied, but that’s a lot of money.” That’s why this movie is great horror: it manages to have a smart, interesting female lead and still lead her into a dangerous, yet terrifyingly reasonable situation.

Unlike us, Samantha doesn’t know that Megan is dead, but she does suspect that something‘s up. However, since she has no concrete evidence,2 she just thinks she’s losing it, tells herself to “get a grip,” and sits back down to watch TV. Until, say, she hears some weird noises… and the cycle starts all over again. This is a movie about irrational fear. And since it keeps everything at such a low register, the smallest frights feel exaggerated – like the off-putting cadence of the pizza man’s voice (“See you in thirty…”), or the shots that peek into the house through the window, or worst/best of all, the hair in the bathtub. It’s a sublimely disturbing moment would feel at home in Psycho, when Lila Crane is rummaging through Norman’s childhood possessions. Samantha looks into the bathtub, gasps, and after mere seconds of agonizingly sustained curiosity, it’s revealed: numerous clumps of dark hair. It’s so much less gory than what we’d expect, but it’s so jarring and unexpected that, in the long run, it’s way scarier than a hacked-off limb could ever hope to be.

After all of these minor incidents and their chilling implications, I won’t deny that the climax is something of a let-down. But it’s necessary, as well as intensely scary. I don’t really know who/what that goat person was, but the makeup creates just the right blend of a corny urban legend-type satanic priest(ess?) and a “holy shit!” materialization of all the anxiety we’ve been experiencing. And it’s hard not to feel Samantha’s pain as those diabolic snippets flash through her poor head. Granted, we’ve got some shakycam, and Samantha dispatches those satanists with remarkable ease, but let’s not split Mary Woronov’s creepy hairs here. It’s a fitting culmination to all that accelerating unease, finally releasing the tension in one quick and amazingly gory burst. It’s almost so gory as to be a parody of traditional horror climaxes, one that puts the rest of the movie’s menacingly quiet style in perspective.

Whatever the purpose, it’s a satisfying grand finale, leading in to the film’s coup de grace: the hospital scene. Again it’s menacingly quiet, we’re privy to some suggestive reports about the moon, and a nurse utters that crushing last line: “You’re going to be just fine. Both of you…” After that, what is there to say? I’d prefer not to discuss the bleak implications, and instead to say that The House of the Devil is the movie to show that silly friend of yours who whines, “Horror movies are nothing but stupid teenagers getting stabbed to death!”3 It’s a very functional argument for the power of suggestion; it’s an eerie depiction of how hard it is to get rent money; it’s just a great horror movie overall. The House of the Devil is a house of awesome, and with that, I turn it over to Ashley.

Ashley:

I don’t know if I’ve ever sympathized so much with a horror movie heroine as much as I do with Samantha from The House of the Devil. I am pretty much in the same situation she is; desperate college student with next to no money trying to find a place to live. If some old couple said they needed a sitter for their mother right now and they offered me $400 I’d be all over that shit, even if the situation was kinda weird. Sam’s desperation is very real and relatable and she feels like a very real girl. This movie, with all of its slow-burning horror and sluggish pace, would just not work without the amazing cast. Everyone, even the landlady who is in the movie for about five minutes, feels real and the performances are amazing. For me, this film works because I really honestly give a shit about the characters and am emotionally invested in what happens to them.

Samantha, as far as horror film heroines goes, is definitely comparable to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Lori from Halloween (who just happens to be one of the best Final Girls in horror). They are both calm, intelligent girls who are victims of circumstance: Lori just happens to be babysitting in the town where Michael runs amok (and also just happens to be his sister) and Samantha is a cash-strapped teenager in a desperate situation who takes a chance on a ‘babysitting’ job. When Megan flips her shit (like a real friend would; theirs is one of the best friendships ever committed to a horror film) and tells Sam that she’s stupid for sticking around after all the weirdness is revealed, we are torn. We know that Megan is right because we know that this is a horror movie but it’s not like Sam, who doesn’t know she’s in a horror movie, is making a completely outrageous decision that is beyond belief. She’s a smart gal in a weird situation but we don’t fault her for it because it’s understandable.

Since Andreas did an excellent job with plot summary/analysis, I want to focus more on isolated incidents of terror/outright creepiness. There are probably three or four major shocks in this film (if you’re excluding the straight-forward horror climax, which I am) depending on how you look at it: Megan’s death, the bodies on the other side of the door, the hair in the bathtub and the last line of the film. But outside of those shocks the film is peppered with such clever, suggestive dialogue and foreshadowing, it makes for a very satisfying cinematic experience. Megan, who is probably one of the best characters EVER (Andreas says he wants a Megan-centric prequel and I have to agree with him), has some of the best lines including “What if the kid’s from hell?” in reference to the babysitting job. We as the audience take note of that because we know the title of the film, maybe even laugh at it; it seems like a moot point later when we learn that there is no child for Sam to babysit. But then it comes back to haunt us with the final revelation of the film: the kid is from hell.

Megan is also a very well-done example of Death By Genre Savviness; she’s not so snarkily self-aware as some Genre Savvy characters but she knows what’s up. She knows a fucked up situation when she sees it and she states it flat-out:

Sam: It’s $400! For four hours? This equals first months rent and then some! It’s too good to be true.

Megan: Did you ever think it is too good to be true?

Sam: Megan, please. I need the money.

Megan: It’s so stupid. It’s so stupid. I’m so mad at you.

This exchange not only reflects Megan’s genre savviness and Sam’s desperation but also reinforces the friendship between these two. And it makes the next scene all the more jarring and horrible. I am firmly of the opinion that “Are you not the babysitter?” has the potential to go down as one of the greatest, creepiest horror lines ever uttered on film. It could be the new “They’re here” or “Come play with us”. The scene is set: creepy cemetery, nervously smoking a cigarette, random guy with a beard pops the fuck out of nowhere. And Megan’s Death By Genre Savviness lines continue even then: “I almost died. I almost had a heart attack and died.” He doesn’t seem too threatening other than the fact that he’s in the cemetery for no good reason and is trying to make small-talk. The way that line is worded is so odd: he could have said, “Are you the babysitter?” but no, it’s “Are you not the babysitter?” The thing that really gets me about this scene is that it’s NEVER explained in full detail. What part of their Satanist plan included him waiting in the cemetery? Was it to make sure, if their last resort girl decided to bail, that she wouldn’t get away? What was he supposed to do if she had been the babysitter? These questions are never answered and all we’re left with is Megan’s face splattered against the windshield.

Other than Megan and obviously Sam, one of the most important characters in this film is Mr. Ulman. This character is so intensely interesting to me (I told Andreas that I wanted a prequel about Megan and Mr. Ulman; that could totally work, right?) because, again, he doesn’t seem that threatening. He’s odd, yeah, but he doesn’t seem like he would hurt you. He doesn’t even seem like he could hurt you. His desperation to find a sitter for ‘mother’ seems very sad and driven by his wife (whom he sometimes appears to be afraid of) and is a direct parallel to Sam’s desperation. She’s desperate for cash, he’s desperate for her to stay. The first time we hear Mr. Ulman (after he somehow calls Sam back on the payphone she just called him from), his voice is so soft, gentle and yet somehow implicitly creepy. I think that a lot of the things that I perceived as creepy in this film, seemed that way because I knew this all had to part of a Satanist plot; it all seemed way too normal and that was really, really off-putting. The first time we see Mr. Ulman is even stranger; it’s framed in such away that the girls gaze up at him and his face is cut off from view. Again, extremely off-putting.

The horror of this film is deeply entrenched in the concept of Nothing is Scarier: the idea that the building tension and expectation of seeing something creates a more palpable horror than actually showing us the blood/monster/whatever. And it fucking works, man. There were so many scenes where it’s just a static, unmoving shot; Sam is walking around, in and out of frame and we’re just sitting here waiting for something to happen, for something to move, for someone or something to come into frame unseen by Sam but it never happens.We never get that release of adrenaline and so we have tension building until it feels like it’s about to snap. The few moments we do get are all the more powerful because of this. When Sam is outside the door that she almost opens and is speaking through to the nonexistent ‘mother’4, we’re finally treated(?) to something gruesome. And it’s very jarring because we’ve spent the last 50 minutes being teased and wound up by the atmosphere and style of the film.

As an homage to the ’80s, this film is top-notch. I was born at the very tail end of that decade but I watched many ’80s horror films and was then bombarded with the recent deluge of nauseating ’80s nostalgia, throwback wank-fests that are currently popular. Why we as a society feel so attached cinematically to this decade is beyond me because it wasn’t a very stellar decade  for film, especially compared to the ’70s (this is just generally speaking of course; there are a some very good and/or fun films from the ’80s, as with any decade). A lot of these throwback homages that we see tend to glorify some of the dumber aspects of the decade. The House of the Devil captures the nostalgia perfectly without having to be kitschy or garish or completely in your face about it like it’s yelling “REMEMBER THE ’80s, WEREN’T THEY AWESOME?!” As noted by Scott Tobias in The AV Club’s New Cult Canon:

…West evokes ’80s horror while making a movie that’s infinitely more skillful than the ones he’s referencing. And that’s what nostalgia, at its best, can accomplish: It makes our memories sweeter and more perfect than our actual experiences at the time…Because as much as people like myself—and I’m sure West, too—like to reminiscence about our formative slasher-movie days, the reality was hours of precious time squandered on artless, exploitative, retrograde garbage. The House Of The Devil gives at least 96 of those minutes back, with interest.

The House of the Devil is damn near perfect, especially if you’re not a fan of the typical Kill ‘Em All slasher flicks. It moves slowly but with purpose and slowly builds you up; by the time we get to the (somewhat ridiculous) climax, it hardly matters that this isn’t as scary as what we’ve been watching because we’re finally getting the release of tension that we’ve been denied for most of the film. And there must be something said for a film that’s bloodiest part, isn’t nearly as terrifying as the 80 or so minutes of bloodless tension we’ve been served.

1 (of the Devil)

2 I mean, those photos in the closet sure are ominous, and so is Megan’s failure to answer her phone, but (for Samantha, at least) they hardly prove that anything’s going on.

3 Although it can be fun to watch stupid teenagers getting stabbed to death.

4 The idea of the mother not even existing completely freaks me out and brings up a lot of unanswered questions, the most prevalent being why did they even feel the need to tell her that it wasn’t a babysitting job? Why not just lie and say “The baby will sleep throughout the night, you won’t even need to check on it”? And I think the answer to that question, other than the Ulmans are just effing weird, is that if they had done that we wouldn’t have had the scene where Mr. Ulman tells Sam the ‘truth’, which is a very good, important scene and it sets up the rest of the film for us.

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Sometimes I just want to break windows and shit.

Imagine what it would be like if every woman responded to the sexual harassment, oppression, rapes, and sexist comments and jokes that perpetrate this anti-woman culture with extreme violence. What if every woman who gets harassed on the streets decided to throw a punch or every rape victim decided to stab her rapist or every time someone made an assumption or comment based on sexist ideas a woman decided to smash something. It’d be a really fucking violent world. An openly violent world. There would be constant violence in the streets and in homes and everywhere.

Sometimes I wish it was like that. Sometimes I wish we would all just fucking lose our shit and start breaking glass and rioting.

Do you think they’d finally listen if we did?

I’ve been thinking a lot about overt female sexuality. Because I’ve been listening to Lords of Acid. And I started thinking about how if you’re a woman you either can’t express sexuality at all (and you’re a real, true goodly lady). Or you CAN and you can be labeled all the things that women who express sexuality get labeled. But beyond that, you are no longer a real, true goodly lady. So anything that happens to you, say, you get assaulted or raped is your fault. By expressing sexuality and a desire for sex, you’re clearly expressing a desire for sex WITH ANYONE AT ALL TIMES EVER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AND NO MEANS YES FROM NOW ON. Cause you’re a slut. If you like sex with one person, you’ll like it with the next.

We can choose to have sex or not have sex. We can choose to show our bodies or not. But there still exists the whore/virgin dichotomy. And it’s still hurting every single one of us. And as far as a large part of the world is concerned, if you choose to have sex you’re also choosing to be a bad girl and you deserve all the shit that may or may happen to you. And only bad shit happens to bad girls, right? Which is why we bemoan the past decisions (or the way they look or where they were or what they were doing) of rape victims and make it seem like they somehow brought it on themselves. It’s why we clutch our pearls at the thought of female sexuality and try to make it seem so scary and dangerous. People are so afraid of women having full and complete ownership of their bodies and their sexualities. Because that’s something that men do. It’s a manly thing. And if women do the things that men do, well, it’s like they ARE men and then there’s no power dynamic and we have to be all equal and shit.

I know I’m oversimplifying.

And I know that I’ve said this all before. And the people that I choose to surround myself with have said this all before and will continue saying it endlessly. It’s the rest of the people that I can’t get through to. Those are the people that don’t want to listen or don’t comprehend and those are the people that scare me because it’s people like that who have power, who make decisions about me and my body and the laws and the protections for and against women. I read a really thought-provoking comment on one of Britni’s posts once:

…I’m going to agree with Melissa McEwan here and say, “And just like how people who speak Arabic are better translators of Arabic than people who don’t, people who have immersed themselves in the critical theories of gender are better translators of what is and is not sexism. Identifying and defining sexism is not–as “sexism is a matter of opinion” suggests–a speculative chore. There is an existing framework for recognizing and characterizing expressed sexism—and those who have made it their business to become fluent in it are the closest thing to objective experts as exist in any discipline.”

I’ve spent most of my life, since I was about 11 years old and started reading books about rape and domestic violence, studying these things in a non-academic setting (although I incorporated it into my schoolwork sometimes). Reading books, reading blogs, listening to people’s stories, experiencing the shit first-hand, etc. I’m planning on going to college to study all of this even more. I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone who has also studied these things. It’s easy for me to recognize sexism and how badly it hurts people. It’s other people that I don’t know how to reach. How do you try to point out something as simple as ‘this is sexist’, when it feels like you have to go into a detailed explanation of HOW and WHY it’s so sexist and WHY it’s important and how YES, IT REALLY, REALLY IS SEXIST AND WOULD YOU JUST STFU AND LISTEN TO ME BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!?

And that’s how angry conversations start. And then we end up nowhere.

Forgive me if this post is really disjointed and makes little sense. I’ve been reading My Fault, I’m Female (you should read it too) and I got really angry and just had to write stuff.

 

 

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Inception: Dreamscapes and Mind Games

Earlier this week, whilst participating in Things That Don’t Suck‘s Christopher Nolan blogothon, I described Inception as my most-anticipated wide-release movie of the summer. Well, last night I caught a midnight screening, and was enthralled: it lived up to all the expectations, the hype, and the mystifying trailers. This is only a tentative review, because the film hasn’t had any time to settle in my brain yet, but I think I can guarantee that we’ll be talking about Inception for a long time. It follows all of Christopher Nolan’s pre-established authorial tendencies, but adds in a few new tricks and twists to delight the senses and boggle the mind. It’s sort of a Borgesian action movie, with a dash of neo-noir and M.C. Escher. If that doesn’t convince you to buy a ticket, nothing will. Now, on to the movie itself…

The plot of Inception is relatively simple, as it follows the formula of every heist film from The Asphalt Jungle to Bob le Flambeur to the present day. A crook with a checkered past (Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb) finds out about a risky plan with a huge pay-off, he assembles a team of specialists, they concoct strategies for every outcome, and they do the job, which here constitutes the majority of the film. But, as always, complications arise, and soon our team is in for the fight of their lives (or, rather, their minds). While the plot may be simple enough, it’s grounded in the complex techniques of shared dreaming, which is thankfully explained to us with the neophyte Ariadne (Ellen Page) as our stand-in. You can enter someone’s dream and alter it, you see, but not too much or else their subconscious projections will attack you. If you die in a dream, you wake up, except not always. If you think this is confusing, just wait till you enter a dream within a dream (within a dream, ad infinitum).

Nolan has tons of fun with these dreams and the nonlinear narrative techniques they allow. This isn’t just the same old chronological rearrangement as we saw in Memento, though; much of the film actually unfolds in parallel stories with different timescales. Between the hazy laws of dreaming and this layered storyline, it’s easy to get lost in Nolan’s maze, as I did once or twice. But it’s just as easy to retrace your steps and get back on track because he’s left a path for you to follow: the emotional arcs of Cobb and his team’s would-be victim, Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy). The former is dealing with the loss of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard); the other with the loss of his ornery father. In dreams, however, checkered past can become physical reality, and both characters must do some quick soul-searching – Fischer especially, since the team’s success depends on his emotional state.

Many films have taken place partially or entirely inside dreams. (See this recent Inventory for more.) Nolan one-ups just about all of them by manipulating the paradoxes, the irrational events, and the conflation of the symbolic and literal that are the stuff of dreams, all to enrich his action-packed, emotion-based story. I have only a few gripes with the film, like the way the performances sometimes feel cramped by the density of the script, preventing Page or Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays Cobb’s right-hand man) from shining as brightly as they have in other films. At some moments, the characters feel reduced to accessories of the plot, a failing Nolan is prone to. The resolution is also abrupt, slightly suspect, and predictable, but it’s a minor complaint given all the giddily warped physics and three-tiered climaxes that preceded it. Finally, you will be confused; for my part, I enjoyed it. That sense of disorientation is just part of experiencing a Christopher Nolan movie, and this one is easily among his best.

[END OF NORMAL REVIEW. SPOILERS AHEAD.]

Now that I’ve given a broad overview of Inception and why I recommend it, I want to get a little more analytical, which means giving away crucial plot details. As in Memento, Nolan embedded the end of the film in the beginning, though time this around, it wasn’t required by the overall structure. Yet Cobb washing up on the shore of Saito’s decades-long limbo doesn’t feel forced or tacked on. It blends easily into the real beginning, the two-layer dream interrupted by Mal. Nolan is playing on a very deep level with how we react to plot structure. Rather than thrilling us with just what’s on the screen, he engages us with the order he puts it in. So part of Inception‘s fun, as with Memento or any similarly puzzling story, is the cognitive experience of being demystified. And this synchs up with the film’s reality/illusion dichotomy, as we must use all the onscreen evidence to establish causality, chronology, and objective truth (if there is any).

With Inception, then, Nolan is really coming into his own. He’s refining his techniques and obsessions while taking them in more extreme directions. Mal, for example, is both of Nolan’s female character types (femme fatale and lost love) rolled into one, with both those functions tied together.1 Relevantly, the flashbacks of Mal’s story reminded me of a comparable film from earlier this year, Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Both films are strongly concerned with the noir theme of destabilized masculine subjectivity, and in both films, DiCaprio has a crazy wife seen only in flashback. Teddy’s wife in Shutter Island, however, never gets a crisis as compelling as Mal’s existential doubts, and the terms of the conflict are far more consistent in Inception. Cobb’s final confession to Mal – “I can’t imagine you with all your complexity…” – also rebukes any notion of the masculine gaze capably encompassing femininity.

Setting aside Cobb’s internal struggles, I’d like to touch on the film’s broader atmosphere. Nolan has a knack for making open spaces feel hermetically sealed. In Memento, Leonard could drive and drive, but he never escaped that city. In Inception, Cobb can fly and fly, but he’s trapped unless he can get back to America and his children. The characters’ jet-setting, like their costumes, is really a throwback to both film noir2 and to the glamorous, intercontinental heist movies of the 1960s, as well as the James Bond franchise. In its monochrome, streamlined décor and its genre trappings, Inception is something of a self-conscious pastiche infused with a totally fresh premise and nested structure. This is compounded by the fact that Cobb’s métier is corporate espionage: the conflicts between Saito, Cobol Engineering, and the Fischers act as a grandiose but hollow frame for the real, substantive story of concealed traumas.

Maybe Inception‘s greatest victory is how well everything hangs together, how it lays out its ideas and plausibly keeps them straight, even if the audience can’t. The team’s subtle strategy for manipulating Fischer determines the progress of the dream layers, convincingly translating the psychoanalytical into the physical. And I’d take the slow-motion sequences of Dileep Rao’s crash into the water, and the consequent shifting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s balance in the hotel, against anything The Matrix had to offer. Although comparisons are inescapable and it was probably a significant influence, The Matrix was so burdened by its pretentious, Joseph Campbell-inspired sci-fi mythos that it pales next to Inception, which is cleaner and straighter to the point. It’ll no doubt be the best American movie of the summer, since Nolan has replicated the masterstroke he pulled off with The Dark Knight: making an action movie that’s at once engrossing on a superficial level, but also genuinely cerebral. Now let’s see what he cooks up for the summer of 2012.

1Mercifully, Page’s Ariadne represents a departure from that schematic, as she’s a caring, perceptive woman who’s also good at what she does. Have I mentioned that I love Ellen Page?

2When Cobb mentions Buenos Aires early on, all I could think of was Gilda.

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Gives me the willies!

Ashley:

I <3 scary movie lists. So, I got super excited when I read on Final Girl and The Horror Digest about Top Ten Willie Inducing Moments list! So here are the moments that give me the chills.

Let the Right One In (2008) – Eli’s “old face”

Let the Right One In is a masterpiece of a vampire film. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but it does have some very chilling moments. For me, Eli’s older face is one of them. I think the reason it freaks me out so much to the point of not even wanting to look at it, is because it’s so subtle. You only really realize after the fact, once her face changes back that it was just totally fucking different a second before.  How Oskar didn’t run screaming from the room the moment that face looked up at him is beyond me; that’s true love, fo’ sho.

Black Christmas (1975) – “I’m going to kill you.”

The original Black Christmas is a movie that scares me so deeply that I can’t even explain it. The first time I watched this movie, I couldn’t sleep right for a few nights afterward. There’s just something about it that gets under my skin and makes me feel unsafe. This moment happens about 8 minutes into the movie and it freaks me the fuck out. We have these excruciatingly long moments listening to grotesque sounds and words coming from the phone and then, without skipping a fucking beat, it switches to complete calm,  telling Barb, “I’m going to kill you.” My stomach literally dropped the first time I saw this part, it scared me so much. I’ve watched this movie with people who just thought this part was HI-LARIOUS and it just goes to show you that different thing scare different people. Just watching this part so I could get this screen grab has me anxious.

Martyrs (2008) – the monster girl

Anything that moves really unnaturally scares me a lot. So, of course there are tons of Asian horror movies that have scary moments for me; that jerky, creepy movement is just not right, it’s not natural, it’s not human. However, the French Martyrs takes the cake for me in terms of stop-moving-like-that-goddammit! This is a brutal film, from start to finish. For the first half of the film, the terrifying monster that continually stalked and fucked up Lucie had me holding my breath, my hands clasped tightly over my mouth. The bathroom scene, where we finally see the creature in full, had me totally petrified. I couldn’t handle the way she moved, the way her bones protruded, the way her mouth was like some jagged black hole whenever she screamed. If I were Lucie, I would have killed myself a long fucking time ago just to get that thing away from me.

Pet Sematary (1989) – Zelda

I debated whether or not to put this one since I don’t consider Pet Sematary one of my favorite horror movies, and as an adult I’ve only seen the whole thing once or twice. But that doesn’t change the fact that at some point during my early childhood I saw parts of this movie; the parts with Zelda. And the image of her never, ever left my mind. I still have intense fears of going into a room and seeing someone hunched in the corner because of this movie. Watching the scenes with Zelda fills me with a sick kind of fear, the kind that makes me want to turn off what I’m watching RIGHT NAOW because I can’t stand looking at it or hearing it.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – bleakest ending ever

I’ve written about my love of The Stepford Wives in the past. This movie is terrifying to me on a very fundamental level; as someone who is very conscious of women’s issues and oppression and patriarchal power , the movie is bleak and gut-wrenching. No escape. No salvation. Death at the hands of men who don’t give a shit about substance or personality; they just want you to be ‘the perfect wife’. And they can pull it off. Because who’s going to question them?

Alice:

When Ashley told me about this “willie-inducing moment” thing, I immediately wanted in. Ergo, voilà! Since neither of us could put together a full 10, here’s my 5 to complete her list, in reverse-chronological order. May the willies be with you…

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – the death of Frank Poole

Space travel is already a pretty scary prospect: no oxygen, just a few other people, relying entirely on your womblike spaceship to get you to Jupiter safely. So when the computer gets pissed off and starts doing in one crew member after another, you’re pretty much fucked. Frank is the second-to-last astronaut left, and all his conspiring with Dave proves futile: HAL unhinges his suit’s umbilical cord, and off he goes, limbs flailing frantically, into the cold darkness. I’ve always thought going into space would be like the coolest thing ever. Then I think about this scene, and… maybe not.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – the corpse at the top of the stairs

It’s great that one of the biggest scares in this classic isn’t the living dead at all. Barbra, running from the gentleman zombie who’s just killed her brother, enters a random house in the Pennsylvania wilderness. She hurries up the stairs, but then she sees this. We never really find out who this corpse belonged to or how they died; judging from the state of decay, it was clearly before the zombie onslaught. And since we only see it for a couple seconds at a time, it really sticks in our minds. All we really know is, stay the fuck off of the second floor! (This moment, I noticed, was also chosen by Bryce at Things That Don’t Suck. It’s just really seriously willie-inducing.)

The War Game (1965) – the first blast

This isn’t really a horror movie. It’s actually more of a political mockumentary. But Peter Watkins’ Oscar-winning film has dozens of these devastating, willies-eliciting moments. With chilling detachment, the film depicts a hypothetical near-future in which NATO vs. Communist Bloc tensions escalated to the point of full-scale nuclear war. This scene shows the first nuclear bombardment of England, as unprepared civilians are blinded by a far-off explosion. My willies are amplified by the accompanying voiceover: “At this distance, the heat wave is sufficient to cause melting of the upturned eyeball…”

Carnival of Souls (1962) – the face in the car window

This guy’s face reappears a lot in Carnival of Souls, as he persistently dogs the steps of our organist heroine Mary (Candace Hilligoss). It’s never clear who he is or what he wants, except that he’s probably dead, and he probably wants Mary to be dead, too. This is the first time we see him, as Mary drives through Utah by night. First, it’s her reflection in the window. Then, it’s him. Dear Scary Faces, please stop being where you shouldn’t, whether it’s in windows, mirrors, or nightmares. Sincerely, me.

Mad Love (1935) – Dr. Gogol disguised as the reanimated Rollo

OK, we all know Peter Lorre is one creepy motherfucker. We saw him make those faces in M. We watched him obsess over that piano-playing hand in The Beast with Five Fingers. He’s even creepy in non-horror movies, like Stranger on the Third Floor. But this scene, midway through Mad Love, may be Lorre’s creepiest moment ever. He’s not just being his (already crazy) self as the obsessive Dr. Gogol. Instead, he’s putting on a demented show by dressing up as the knife-thrower Rollo, who was executed earlier in the film, in order to freak out poor pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive).

Let’s count everything that’s willie-inducing about this scene: 1) the neck brace and metal hands are totally nonfunctional – I think it’d be way less terrifying if his head actually had been reattached. 2) Still, the idea of reattaching a guillotined man’s head = ewww. 3) The sunglasses and hat almost entirely covering his face. 4) Lorre’s laughter. 5) He doesn’t even look like Rollo (played by Edward Brophy), yet Orlac falls for it. This is only one short scene, but that image – which I saw as a child in those devilish horror movie encyclopedias we had lying around the house – is so uncanny, so perverse, and so wrong in so many ways that it gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Ewww! Bad! No! In closing, I hope you enjoyed our willies.

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