Tag Archives: children

Horror Character Madness, Part 2

By Ashley

Last week, Andreas posted his first five favorite horror movie characters and now, after a brief setback, I’m happy to present my own!

25) The Dancing Corpse (Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn [1987])

Because why the fuck not? Seriously though, what is better than the decapitated corpse of Ash Williams’ girlfriend rising from the grave to treat viewers to a macabre pseudo-ballet? When Linda’s giggling head joyfully rolls back onto her neck and she starts pirouetting around, the movie is very knowingly walking the line between horror/comedy and self-parody. Up until this moment, Evil Dead II is just a remake/reminder of Evil Dead I but then BAM, a corpse is dancing and it really sets the stage for the bizarre comedic set-pieces that follow. And it’s damn fine stop-motion to boot!

24) Rhoda (Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed [1956])

The Bad Seed was one of the first maternal madness movies I ever saw and it struck a major chord with me (obvi). Rhoda terrified me—all blond pigtails, wide eyes, and murderous rage. I was totally sucked in by her precocious psychosis and how effortlessly she manipulated the adults around her. Why is this little girl the very embodiment of evil? The best explanation the movie gives us is some shoddy science: Rhoda’s maternal grandmother was a serial killer and this tendency skips a generation. Ultimately, Rhoda gets bitch-slapped by the heavy hand of morality; as my dad quipped darkly after she was struck by lightning, “God got her.”

23) Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles in Halloween [1978])

I’ve discussed, at length, my love for Lynda Van Der Klok. It has very little to do with Lynda’s character and everything to do with how fucking much I love P.J. Soles; she has the amazing ability to breathe charismatic life into dim-witted, shallow, catty characters. She helps these characters become more than your typical horror movie meat-bags. Lynda Van Der Klok is self-centered, vain, vapid, and isn’t apologizing for shit, and goddammit, I love her for it.

22) Rhonda (Samm Todd in Trick ‘r Treat [2007])

You know, sometimes you’re just down for some good old-fashioned revenge. I watched Trick ‘r Treat for the first time in the beginning of October and it was perfect. It was so goddamn perfect that I wanted to punch it for being too good. It was very hard for me to pick just one character from this movie because, God, they’re all so fucking awesome. But Rhonda holds a special place in my heart: the sweet savant who gets cruelly tricked by her little bitch classmates. And then, when real scary shit goes down, does our girl Rhonda take the moral high road and prove herself better than her classmates? Fuck no. In true Carrie style, she leaves them to be eviscerated by a horde of zombie children. My favorite part is how incredibly calm she is about it: she doesn’t sneer or glower or spell out to them what she’s doing or why. She just looks at them with a clear, patient face that says, “You deserve this.”

21) Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt [1945])

I’m not shy about my all-encompassing (at times indecent) love of Joseph Cotten. There is nothing I do not love about this man. Joseph Cotten, like Jimmy Stewart, often plays characters who are superhumanly warm and good-natured. And so, just as with Jimmy Stewart, when he’s playing a decidedly unwholesome character—like the bluebeard Uncle Charlie—it brings an added chill to the table. Especially because Uncle Charlie is a deceitful mix of gentle, wholesome family man and cold-blooded murderer; Cotten switches between the two in an instant with little more than a look or a gesture. It leaves me feeling deeply unsettled because just like his ever more suspicious niece Charlie, I love Uncle Charlie. I admire him and want him so badly to be good. It’s a film that fucks hard with our feelings toward its charismatic villain.

So, boys and ghouls and those off the gender spectrum, keep your eyes peeled for the rest of our favorite horror characters! The next five from both of us should be up later this week!

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Kids Say the Darndest Things

By Andreas

I’m into leather.

This may be my favorite gag in all of Annie Hall. While Alvy’s remembering his childhood (and the fact that he “never had a latency period”), his younger self asks the other elementary school kids to tell about their futures. One kid runs a profitable dress company; another is president of the Pinkus Plumbing Company. The second-to-last is a nerdy little boy in a bowtie who says, “I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.” But the funniest of all is the last, played by 10-year-old Quinn Cummings, who gives the line quoted above.

The concept behind this joke, of having little kid voices incongruously say sad adult things, is surefire comedy in the first place. But each of these little snippets so perfectly reflects Allen’s offbeat sense of humor, and the little kids give such innocently deadpan line readings, that this scene strikes me somewhere beyond the funnybone. It reaches the part of my brain that knows, even if I don’t laugh, that “holy shit, it’s really funny!” It’s also, of course, a sly comment on the tragedy of ruined promise and the difficulty of judging where a 10-year-old is headed. But first and foremost, it’s about the inherent hilarity of that little girl saying, “I’m into leather.”

Thanks for joining us for Annie Hall Week! Remember, a relationship is like a shark.

Past Annie Hall Week posts: Small Portions · Duane’s Delusions · Alvy and the Wicked Queen · A Very Happy Couple

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Link Dump: #30

I don’t want to be buried in a pet sematary. I don’t want to live my life again. Especially if living my life again involved being attacked by Church, the scary-as-fuck kitty cat from Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary. (I’ve never seen it, but Ashley assures me that it’s terrifying.) Whether or not you’re fond of zombie cats, you’ll probably love these links, which include the funny, the sad, and the just plain ridiculous:

  • Sometimes kids’ books are actually more for adults. Brain Pickings documents a few of those times, including the great Matilda and The Phantom Tollbooth.
  • Nathaniel was out of town this past week, so I helped run the “First and Last” game over at The Film Experience. It was an amazing experience; go over and see if you can guess my and Dave‘s picks!
  • In case you need more evidence that the legislators in Arizona are completely off their rockers check out this birther bill: got a foreskin? YOU AIN’T AMERICAN!
  • In “Ashley totally called this” news: Nic Cage was arrested early Saturday morning for drunkenly yelling at and pushing his wife.
  • Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum is distancing himself from his campaign of “Fighting to Make America America Again”. Why, you may ask? Because he found out a similar phrase was already used by Langston Hughes. Dickbag.
  • If you have a lot of time to spare, then check out these 15 hugely entertaining movie cliché montages.
  • In New Zealand, a new billboard campaign is attempting to lower motor accident fatalities by raising “maximum awareness through unease”. What exactly does this mean? Bleeding billboards.
  • After a Tumblr user speculated that most women “probably find catcalling flattering” (cause what’s more flattering than men feeling entitled to yelling shit at you on the streets?), the Tumblr How Many Women was born; if you want to see just how many ladies love the street harassment go there (spoiler: none of them do).
  • If you want to see some beautiful swan songs, look at Flavorwire’s “Famous Artists’ Last Works,” which starts off with Duchamp, Klimt, Van Gogh, and more. (Yay, paintings!)
  • Guy Maddin was recently given free rein to grab some DVDs and Blu-Rays at Criterion Collection headquarters. Watch the video here. I really want “BAG!” to become an Internet meme. On a related note, I realized that I am disturbingly similar to Guy Maddin.

In terms of search terms, we had some weird ones this past week. Someone asked the obvious question, “why did barbara stanwyck wear that ugly wig in double indemnity,” while someone else inquired incoherently, “which actrees expose there pusy during a flim souting, photo.” Another visitor was wondering “awkward with women is it because of porn”; that might be the case if you watch porn where “every woman in the room was systematically fucked.”

There was one question, though, that I can’t answer: “fucking to women during his pregnancy is safe or unsafe.” Because I don’t know what that means. Finally, we had some great, bizarre search terms, “video erotic beheading” (somebody likes Videodrome-style porn?) and of course, the inevitable “the digestive system theme song.” I wish I knew the tune to that.

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Spider Baby: black comedy and cannibal children

[I wrote the following as part of the Film Club over at the horror blog Final Girl; go check them out. Also note that spoilers are abundant, like degenerative mental illness in a heavily inbred family.]

The film is called Spider Baby, depending on who you ask. Some may prefer The Maddest Story Ever Told, while others may go with Cannibal Orgy. These titles already give you a glimpse of the film’s true nature: excessive, sensational, manic. It’s an ultra-low-budget B-movie with the best of them, for sure. But while lots of the ’60s horror movies I’ve sat through have been slow, grainy exercises in dullness, Spider Baby takes off into high gear from the first few seconds. Hell, the opening credits, sung by Lon Fuckin’ Chaney, Jr., give you a taste of totally absurd, campy horror that tops some feature-length films.

Cannibal spiders creep and crawl
Boys and ghouls having a ball
Frankenstein, Dracula and even the Mummy
Are sure to end up in someone’s tummy

Spider Baby is an unexpectedly self-aware movie, as its theme song casually references the horror movie tropes about to be employed. Even if Chaney was a friendless alcoholic nearing the end of his life as he sang it (at least according to interviews I’ve read), this opening is nonetheless infused with a strange sense of fun, and the filmmakers’ knowledge that they’re about to dollop out some tricks and treats. But not even the invocation of all these past monster movie muses can prepare the viewer for the bizarrerie that follows. The song is just a stream-of-consciousness gateway to the abyss.

In true horror movie style, the story is prefaced by an official-sounding monologue. A man sitting comfortably in what looks to be a den introduces the Merrye family and their namesake syndrome, both of which he claims were wiped out 10 years ago. This, we later learn, is Peter, who with his sister Emily, their lawyer Mr. Schlocker, and his pretty assistant Ann, have come to take possession of the Merrye household. However, they’re opposed by the Merrye children – the childlike, knife-wielding Elizabeth and Virginia, and the large but animalistic Ralph (Sid Haig) – and their paternal chauffeur, Bruno (Chaney). Herein lies the film’s driving conflict, but it’s one which is never expressed in anything but the most unpredictable and off-putting ways.

And before any of that can happen, we enter the Merrye estate alongside a courier played by Mantan Moreland, a black actor best-known for his bug-eyed, broadly comic, racially stereotyped roles in 1940s comedies and Charlie Chan movies. Moreland’s brief performance raises the possibility that this will be a light, jokey horror-comedy. Then he’s attacked, mutilated, and murdered by Virginia, who insists it was all part of her “spider” game. When we dolly in on his ear, which drops lightly to the floor, we realize it won’t be that kind of movie – yet the levity continues as Moreland flails in the window, and when Elizabeth walks in on the scene, she plays the big sister, acting as if Virginia’s been leaving her roller skates sitting around. This radical dissonance between the onscreen violence and the characters’ reactions is just an initial sample of the film’s perverse humor.

Writer-director Jack Hill, a purveyor of cult favorites who’d go on to direct Pam Grier in Coffy and Foxy Brown, delights in sick jokes like this. A skinned cat is passed off as rabbit for the Merryes’ hungry guests, and as Virginia’s spider psychosis threatens addition lives, strains of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” punctuate the soundtrack. Hill plays similar games with audience sympathies: we pity the Merryes, whose “happy” family and way of life is about to be interrupted, but that doesn’t keep us from screaming “Don’t go in there!” as Schlocker investigates the house. Schlocker is a bureaucratic slimeball, sure, complete with an omnipresent cigar, but Hill still compels us to worry for him. The kids, of course, are never in any real danger – they’re the source of the horror. In case it’s not clear, this is an intentionally confounding movie.

The greatest object of our pity, anyway, is poor Bruno. Although he shields and enables murder after murder. He’s an anti-hero in the mold of Seymour from The Little Shop of Horrors: stuck in a bind (a promise he made to the children’s dying father), he believes it’s his responsibility to protect this brood of psychotic cannibals, as well as their aunt and uncle (who dwell in a pit in the basement… it’s that kind of movie). Since Bruno doesn’t actually kill anyone on his own, it’s easy to feel sorry for him, and his final decision – to enact an explosive mercy killing – hails back to the pathos at the end of Of Mice and Men. (Chaney played Lenny in a 1939 film version, opposite Burgess Meredith.) Chaney, never an especially subtle actor, still brings all of his conflicted devotion to the role of Bruno, and is the emotional cornerstone of the film.

But nothing can top the performances of Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner (neither of whom had much of a career outside of this) as Elizabeth and Virginia. All good horror fans know that children are evil. But who knew children could be this evil? They’re especially effective because they don’t seem aware of their sadistic, homicidal natures; they just act like little kids, and Virginia talks about her spider game as innocuously as if it were jump rope. They’re as fickle, irrational, and lacking in self-control as real children – they’re pure id. (It’s worth noting that during production, Washburn and Banner were about 21 and 18, respectively.) The civilized intruders don’t even appear to notice the giggling, rosy-cheeked menaces right under their noses. And by the time they do, it’s too late.

Spider Baby is a pretty audacious horror movie in how it brings four “normal” people into an obviously, outrageously abnormal situation, and shows them relatively at ease in it, a juxtaposition that would feel at home in a Luis Buñuel movie. It’s also a haunted house movie par excellence, but extends the usual twists to the point of hyperbole. Psycho had one jittery motel owner with some stuffed birds and his mother’s preserved corpse saved for the big final scare. Spider Baby has a jittery chauffeur, three psychos in plain sight, two more downstairs, birds mounted randomly on the wall, and the father’s skeleton revealed still in his bed halfway through the film. At 81 minutes, it wastes no time, ramping up each successive scare into more and more over-the-top territory – and considering the minimal resources and $65,000 budget, that’s damn impressive.

So what to make of Spider Baby? It’s far better and more interesting than I expected. The title smacks of cheesy, ridiculous, low-budget schlock, and while these words all applicable to varying degrees, it’s also a seriously scary and fucked-up movie. The Maddest Story Ever Told isn’t just one of those comically superfluous subtitles; it’s a surprisingly accurate description of the film’s ambitions. And the moniker “spider baby” can be applied not only to Virginia, who gleefully catches “bugs” in her web of innocence, but to Peter and Ann’s child as seen in the disturbing epilogue (with one of the best-deserved “THE END?” twists of all time). In this final scene, the film thrusts all of its bloody depravity and wicked humor in the face of 1960s Middle America and its petty little dreams. Even after the climactic destruction of the haunted house, the movie cunningly says, the horror may live on in quiet suburban backyards. And that’s scary.

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“Atalanta” and self-determination

So, this isn’t nostalgia for me, since I wouldn’t be born for another couple decades, but it might be for some people. This is an excerpt from a 1974 TV special called Free to Be… You and Me. Attributed to “Marlo Thomas and Friends” (other participants include Mel Brooks, Rosey Grier, and little Michael Jackson), Free to Be… is basically a series of songs and skits in the vein of Schoolhouse Rock or Sesame Street attempting to teach children about gender roles, tolerance, and the fact that they were indeed “free to be” identified with whichever gendered behaviors they chose. On the whole, it’s pretty cute, if sometimes a little nauseating or unintentionally hilarious. But the best part, without doubt, is “Atalanta,” a fairy tale cartoon voiced by Thomas and Alan Alda. Watch it for yourself.

It’s not the best-made cartoon of all time  – the animation style is low-rent and reminiscent of cheap storybooks, the music is dated, and the voicework sounds like Alda and Thomas are reading through and enjoying themselves. But it’s not bad for part of a TV special, and that’s the point anyway: it’s the moral. After decades (centuries?) of being told stories where a woman/princess is only an object of desire, caught between forces into which she can have no input, only able to hope that a handsome prince will win her hand, this is finally a fable about gender equity.

It’s an adorable fairy tale with three likeable characters (no requisite villain to be seen) that allows its protagonist’s self-determination. Among the most heartening moments: Atalanta’s correcting of her father’s decrees; John’s respect for Atalanta’s wishes; and of course the ending, when everybody really does end up happily ever after. No one is funneled into an enforced, specific type of “happiness” like that under fairy tale marriages. (E.g., what happens when Cinderella finds out that the Prince – who she’d only had a few hours’ worth of contact with before committing herself for life – has a few bad habits of his own?)

Instead, Atalanta and John get to choose their lives for themselves. They don’t blindly pigeonhole themselves into one single life choice that will decide everything else for them. The cartoon accepts that people change over time and that when you’re pretty young probably isn’t the time to make quick decisions with lifelong repercussions. It’s important to be able to go out, explore the world, discover new alternatives, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. Maybe they’ll end up settling on a more traditional mode of life. Maybe they’ll find their own way to go, distinct from all established ways of living. And maybe they’ll realize that they’re too dissimilar and pursue other people instead. As the cartoon wisely concludes, who knows?

So I highly recommend showing this cartoon to any young children or older children or really anyone you know who could still learn a thing or two about relationships and life decisions. Sometimes it’s astonishing how ignorant people can be about all the choices they have; when I can, I try to tell children, Different people can do different things. Not everyone needs to follow the same track of college, marriage, job, kids, house, etc. Some people can, and good for them, but not everybody. And maybe not Atalanta, even if she is a princess. Our birth ranks – like our genitals, chromosomes, bank accounts, and skin colors – should not determine where we end up in life. The only ones who should preside over that decision are us.

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Won’t somebody think of the children?

Oh, the feeling of being sleepy and grimy as the week begins. Weeks. 7 days makes 1 weak. Monday through Sunday. Some calendars say Sunday through Saturday. But I have long considered that bullshit. I remember in my 12th grade English class being introduced to a line spoken by an African boy in a documentary our teacher had seen: “You work till you die.” It’s a terrifying series of words to hear. And I suppose it’s frighteningly accurate, too. We live in an unjust world. Bad things happen to good people, all the time. Am I a good person? Do bad things happen to me? I don’t really know. These are very, very difficult questions. So I prefer to just toss out a blanket statement that “The world sucks!” and preoccupy myself with different aspects of popular culture. Which is one way of exploring the world, and probably more accessible to me, a 21st century college student, than many other methods. And… often I will ask myself, Why does it matter? Is it really worth it? And often I think of the children. The children in America today, who I am related to or see occasionally or worked with last year while tutoring at the middle school. The fact about the children is that, sometimes sadly, they are the future.

Sure, our generation’s going to be in positions of power within the next couple decades, and that’s scary, but the little kid of today, as I was telling Ashley yesterday, is the businessman, upstanding citizen, and voter of tomorrow. Actually, I think I said something like “the little moron of today.” The kids you see doing senseless, stupid, often violent, meaningless things. Kids to whom a book is anathema; to whom anything created before their lifetime – or even before the past 2-3 years – is “old” and “boring.” I’m not a universal naysayer (though, I admit, something of a curmudgeon) who says that kids today are little hooligans who won’t stay the fuck off my lawn (seriously, though. Don’t think I don’t know where my apples are disappearing to). I’m just concerned. I have worked with a bunch of fucking 12-year-olds and seen that most of them have little to no interest in reading, let alone if the reading is “hard.” One little kid was committed to becoming a trucker, come what may, and was unwilling to consider any future that didn’t fall within the realm of “becoming a trucker.” Now, I have nothing against truckers. But really, when you think about what the world needs, does your mind jump to “more truckers”? Nothing against this kid, either. It’s cute that he’s got his whole life planned out before him. But you know what the world really needs more of? Open-mindedess. Hey, if I can open my mind up to cultural experiences I didn’t expect to enjoy, 12-year-olds can do it too, dammit. To quote our disgraced ex-president, “Is our children learning?” Now, most of us have gone through the American public school system at some point. And, as I’ve discussed with Ashley, kids are damn lucky if, despite being where they are, they’re able to explore new, interested, or unusual ideas.

I’m not sure why, exactly, I’m so concerned about this. Maybe because I know what it’s like to be that age, since that was the part of my life right before this one. Maybe it’s because, as my father has very often pointed out, I’m just a natural teacher, who has often been inclined toward working with kids and teaching them. I don’t particularly like children. I think they’re usually too noisy, often frustrating, and tend to be nasty little buggers who should really just shut up and go away from me. Go away! (Younger siblings sometimes give one post-traumatic stress disorder.)

And you know, I love using the word “bugger.” I really do. Bugger! British profanity is so bloody fun. Bollocks! America, you are missing out by not considering words like “bugger” and “bloody” to be taboo. Also, if Sid & Nancy is to be believed, the English are a lot freer about use of the word “cunt.” (More information on this topic here.) Now, don’t get me wrong. I think using “cunt” as an insult toward a woman is bloody ridiculous and offensive and completely impermissible (is “impermissible” really a word?). But using it to refer to the vagina is something me and Ashley do all the fucking time. Cunt is just one of those “four-letter words” that, containing only 4 letters, capture a profound simplicity. Shit. 4 letters, referred to in youth as the “S-H” word, kids sometimes would dare each other to say “sit” with their tongues out. Somehow I’m just fascinated by childhood practices like this. Maybe it’s because people form their personality, prejudices, etc. in childhood. Everything solidifies. And childhood sexuality is strangely fascinating, too. (Ashley and I have had long, intriguing discussions on this, too.) I’m not saying any kind of pedophilic bullshit about how, oh, children + sexuality = fun. Ohh, pedophilia. God, this reminds me of a grim story. Because, OK, there was this friend of mine, and I spent lots of time at his house. And sometimes his friend, who was, oh, 3-4 years younger than us, would come over. My friend’s friend had a little sister. She was about as old as my friend’s little sisters, so about 6-7 years younger than us. And so, the point is this: one time, the younger boy said to me something like, “My friend such-and-such takes his fingers and…” basically, I think, felt around in his little sister’s genitalia. He told this to me once, I kind of tried to forget about it thereafter, and I’m only just now randomly remembering it. It’s a kind of disturbing story to retell. I have no idea what the full story was; I didn’t know this kid that well, or his family, or who his friend was who was doing this. Maybe it was just curiosity and maybe it just occurred this one time. I have no idea. I never repeated this to anyone and God, only now am I thinking in retrospect that maybe I should’ve. At least to me, it feels like a gray, gray area. What do you do when someone you barely know tells you something that traumatic? What’s the proper way to react? This happens to everyone at some point or another. Some dirty, unpleasant story or sentence that you really just didn’t want to hear, and when they tell it to you, it feels like they’re putting an unfair burden on you.

This reminds me yet again of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I mentioned in my last blog as well. I think of her accounts of brief sexual incidents in childhood, and her ways of recording menstruation and masturbation in her diary. Mentioning those two words in the same sentence brings up a somewhat funnier story from my own adolescence, but I don’t think I’ll recount it just now. My point is that pre-adult sexuality is fraught with awkwardness. It’s in every coming-of-age story. And it’s in every single person’s childhood. Everyone wonders what, exactly, their genitals are for. Why are these strangely-designed organs sitting moistly between my legs? Why am I not supposed to talk about them? What’s this secret I hear whispered by the dirty-minded older kids on the playground? And herein lies a big question. Should kids be informed that, yes, there is this little part of life called sex, and that’s what those are for, but just wait, I’ll explain it to you when you start bleeding / having erections, and for now just keep it to yourself and keep your underwear on?

I am grateful that I am not and will hopefully never be a parent and have to answer this question. Nonetheless, it has major implications for all of us. And dammit, the answers are important. It’s not just about children. It’s about helping huge amounts of people live better, happier lives – after all, children’s TV shows and books and magazines is a big industry. They start early with everything. Me and Ashley are thinking about making a coloring & activity book for her little niece and nephew. We want to see them, and my little sister, and every little kid grow up into a healthy, intelligent, well-informed, well-adjusted adult. Not a boring, normal person, mind you, but someone who appreciates and enjoys their own unique ideas and idiosyncrasies. It’s about producing generations of people who can make the world end up better than it is now (and veer it off the path of destruction). We’ll see what we can do.

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