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Horror Character Madness, Part 1

By Andreas

When Stacie Ponder over at Final Girl announced her SHOCKtober plans for this year, she stirred something deep inside Ashley and I. Specifically, she stirred the eternal desire to list off our favorite horror movie characters. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Throughout October, we’ll periodically be showcasing each of our top 25 horror characters. It starts now, with my 25-21; stay tuned for Ashley’s first five later this week!

25) The Nursery Owner (Frank Collison in The Happening [2008])

We’re packing hot dogs for the road. You know, hot dogs get a bad rap. They got a cool shape, they got protein… you like hot dogs, right?

For one sweet minute, The Happening changes from a godawful eco-horror movie into a hot dog awareness PSA, and it’s all thanks to “The Nursery Owner.” Played by character actor Frank Collison, he’s a rural Pennsylvanian who keeps calm in times of panic and knows what kind of processed meat to snack on in the midst of a disaster. He may die an ignoble off-screen death later in the movie, but he remains a hero to hot dog lovers everywhere. We salute you, hot dog guy.

24) The Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near in Eraserhead [1977])

Why is she there? What does she symbolize? Why is she so creepy? With her chipmunk cheeks, ugly wig, and bizarrely amateurish vaudeville routine, Eraserhead’s Lady in the Radiator has burnt herself into our corneas and eardrums. Maybe she’s an imagined source of Depression-era optimism in Henry Spencer’s dismal life. Maybe she’s an eerie audiovisual manifestation of his pent-up psychosexual anxieties. Maybe she’s just a tiny woman who lives and sings in his radiator. I don’t know and, to be frank, I don’t want to know.

23) The Living Torso (Prince Randian in Freaks [1932])

The Freaks ensemble is hard to discuss in “acting” or “character” terms: since it consists primarily of non-actors squeezed awkwardly into melodramatic roles, it’s tough to delineate the borders between performance, reality, and exploitation. This applies especially to the poker-faced Prince Randian (inexplicably credited as “Rardion”), who appears onscreen to do his trademark bit (rolling and lighting a cigarette with his mouth), call out a garbled line, and disappear until the climax, wherein he wriggles along with a knife in his mouth.

Despite (or because of?) the brevity of this role, Randian sticks like a thorn in my mind. A Guianan immigrant in his early sixties, he seems grizzled and professional as he performs for what would become his generation-spanning, worldwide cult audience. Furthermore, it’s especially impressive to see a person of color take center-stage in a Hollywood movie from the early ’30s, if only for a minute.

22) Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor, The Invisible Man [1933])

When I wrote about The Invisible Man last year, I had this to say about Jenny Hall, the innkeeper’s wife who comes face to no-face with mad Jack Griffin: “[S]he’s a hyperactive, thick-brogued scream queen… she’s bitchy, nosy, gossipy, inane, infuriating, and gives a great performance. You’d have to be a great actress to play such a deeply intolerable character.” I stand by it, too. She’s the definitive shrill, British matron, realized with all the brio and exaggeration of a Looney Tunes character.

21) Jean (Chloë Sevigny in American Psycho [2000])

Poor Jean is so cute and so unlucky. She’s working as a secretary at a big Wall Street firm, living the dream, climbing the ladder—but alas, her boss happens to be, at best, a self-absorbed psychopath and, at worst, a mass murderer. I adore how Sevigny plays her: fairly modest and quiet, thrilled just to be sitting in Mr. Bateman’s apartment, cluelessly asking her would-be date, “Patrick, have you ever wanted to make someone happy?” I think we can all sympathize with Jean; recognize that we would be in her position, too. As such, I’m really, really happy that she lives.

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In Heaven, Everything Is Fine

In Lynchland, though, it’s a different story altogether. That’s because this week’s entry in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series is David Lynch’s bombshell of a first feature, Eraserhead (1977). If you only know one thing about Eraserhead and its imagery, it should be this: they’re gross and disturbing. In Lynch’s distorted vision of human relationships, sexual anxieties get literalized with all the oozing pus and foam you could ask for. It’s the kind of movie that makes me go, “Ew! Ew! No! Put down those scissors!” for like a solid minute. Compared to all those grotesque mutations, my choice for best shot is relatively innocuous:

At this point in the film, protagonist Henry Spencer’s wife Mary is all fed up with their mutant baby’s constant yammering, so she’s moved back in with her parents. With her away, Henry takes a chance on the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, and they start getting intimate… when the Beautiful Girl spots that icky, whining baby. On the most basic level, then, this shot is about how much of a turn-off babies (especially mutant babies) are. The second Henry’s paramour gets an eyeful of his weird-looking offspring, she goes back across the hall, and he remains sexually frustrated for the rest of the film.

It’s also very visually striking. Like the rest of Eraserhead, it’s shot with extremely low lighting and low contrast, so it’s hard to tell where Henry’s face ends and the Beautiful Girl’s face begins. It’s like we’re gazing down at a fleshy nocturnal landscape. (It also reminds me of René Magritte’s painting The Kiss.) These two distinctly unhappy people look for some pleasure by frantically groping and kissing one another—but in Eraserhead‘s sick world, it’s never that easy. It’s all too appropriate, in a film that represents sex as a disgusting ordeal of writhing and fluids, for this little tryst to end with the Beautiful Girl’s eyes bulging out in terror.

In Eraserhead, everything’s ever so slightly off-kilter, psychologically and visually. No one talks like real people, and nothing looks quite like its real-world analogue. This makes the tiny resemblances to real life that much scarier. In Henry and Mary’s dysfunctional relationship, in their screaming baby, in the depressing emptiness of their apartment, and in the utter gloominess of their environment, we can see little echoes of very real horrors and everyday problems.

In the image above (my second-favorite shot), the perpetually put-upon Henry raises his eyebrow; his misery is tinged, for once, with curiosity. In the background, Mary clings to a door while her father, the impotent patriarch, perches at the head of the table. (His face is obscured by Henry’s strange, massive hair.) This is Lynch’s perverse take on the nuclear family and their domestic milieu. This shot’s just barely canted, with the composition and the many shades of gray geared to indicate that something’s, well, off. Get out, Henry. Get out while you still can.

I’ll end with an illustration of Eraserhead‘s overwhelming ickiness, as Henry is enveloped by a metaphor for his own sexual anxieties. I have one word for this: YUCK.

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Link Dump: #23

Gotta catch ’em all, Pokekitties. We don’t for sure whether that adorable feline has been manipulated in Photoshop or was actually painted from head to paw (which would be cruel), but either way it’s pretty much the cutest thing Ashley or I have ever seen. Like, OK, Pikachu was pretty cute, but a kitty made to look like Pikachu? Infinitely cuter. On that note, we have links, some of which involve KITTIES. (Oh, and isn’t it awesome that Ashley’s blogging again? You should all give her positive feedback so she writes more often!)

  • The Los Angeles Times has profiles of three of last year’s unrecognized supporting performers. I didn’t think too much of Eve Best in The King’s Speech, but I loved Barry Pepper in True Grit and, of course, Dale Dickey as the fearsome backwoods matriarch in Winter’s Bone.
  • Nothing says “Heaven knows I’m validated now” like Morrissey-themed fan comics.
  • Cynthia von Buhler, artist of all that is cute and weird, presents Cat Head Theatre, with KITTIES performing from Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet. (One of my favorite parts!)
  • This Great Gatsby NES game may be a little repetitive and, on the second level, ridiculously difficult, but it’s still very fun and rates highly on the retro novelty scale. Play away, old sport.
  • I will never get tired of those Jameson-sponsored 60-second movie reenactments. Especially when it means a claymation Exorcist and Eraserhead. The power of humorous Internet videos compels you!
  • Crackpot politicians: they’re everywhere! Even in the Minnesota State Legislature. Like Mike Beard, who… whew, just read about it.
  • As the seasons shift to spring, a new and beautiful blogathon arises! I just learned that Bryce at Things That Don’t Suck is hosting Raimifest, and I’ll very definitely be contributing. Maybe this’ll finally give me a chance to watch Spider-Man 2!
  • Want to get really, really pissed off and just generally angry? Then read this interview with Ohio-based artist Richard Whitehurst, creator of “THE RAPE TUNNEL.” His responses to the interviewer’s questions are like physical embodiments of the phrase “pretentious asshole.” He really sucks. [Comments below the interview suggest that it might be a hoax. Still, if someone really did say those things, they would be a horrible person.]
  • Masked Japanese monkey waiters?!!!
  • Paracinema asks the question on all of America’s mind: Is Ben Kingsley the new Donald Pleasence?
  • Finally, want to download a cute, free, new song and support super-independent musicians? Check out the Baby-Proof Bullets!

As far as search terms go, I always love a good Yakov Smirnoff joke, and “in soviet russia presents open you” works just fine. We got more gratuitous, bizarre violence with “girl stabbed in the neck” (hey, that’s what the graphic novel I wrote is about!), and more gratuitous, bizarre mentions of genitalia with “bela lugosi little cunt.” (I can’t even start to figure out that one.) And hey, just for good measure: “movie artist beheading axe mom and daughter.” Yeah. Huh.

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The Sounds of Violence

I’ve been writing an awful lot about horror movies this month, and all my emphasis on cinematic frights makes it easy to forget that horror permeates all media. So, to diversify our coverage, here’s a list of about 10 very scary, Halloween-appropriate songs. Plus, they’re interspersed with bonus songs so you can dig deeper and make the ultimate Halloween party playlist! What’s not to love? (For more Halloweeny songs, check out the spookylicious Kindertrauma Jukebox! Also: YouTube videos come and go. If any of the links below are dead ends, please comment so I can update them.)

10. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

Back when “goth” meant something more than a high school fashion statement, Bauhaus released this tribute to Lugosi, who reached the title state in 1956. Long and atmospheric, the song was featured in the opening scene of The Hunger (1983), where it helped set the mood better most of the confusingly edited, noisy scenes to follow. Its eerie simplicity was an example that director Tony Scott would’ve been wise to follow. Sample lyrics: “The virginal brides file past his tomb / Strewn with time’s dead flowers…”

Also… “Late Night Creature Feature” by The Bewitched is an ode to watching scary movies late at night. The Bewitched is a very cool Minneapolis dark cabaret outfit, and they have my highest recommendation. [Like them on Facebook!]

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Link Dump: #5

Well, mid-September has arrived, and now Ashley and I are going to kick this blog into high gear. That’s right: Ashley is about to return from the land of the dead and start blogging (and making audacious tweets) again! Meanwhile, I’ve returned to school, and will soon be buried under piles of books & papers… but I’m sure I’ll still find time to blog every now and then. And to presage this purported autumn renaissance here at Pussy Goes Grrr, I’ve got links for you! Links, and freckly goddess Julianne Moore covered in lion cubs!

  • Google has been, well, being evil lately. Among other issues, Carnal Nation reports that their new Instant search service blocks “lesbian” and “bisexual”… but not gay? Oh, silly Google, what the fuck are you doing?
  • Ashley reblogged this fun list of “Anti-Gay Activists Caught In Gay Scandals” from STFU Homophobes.
  • Here’s a handy list of online academic resources about Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s fun to peek in on other people’s classes!
  • On the blog Mystery Man on Film, we’ve got the full text of a lecture given in 1939 by the Master of Suspense himself.
  • In the “Fun Comic Summaries of Crazy Movies” Department, we’ve got a one-page condensation of Eraserhead. (Thanks, @baconalert!)
  • Stacie Ponder of Final Girl wants you to make yer voice heard by sending her a list of yer 20 favorite horror movies. So go do it! What better way to get into the pre-Halloween spirit?
  • The Daily Beast has a list of Martin Scorsese’s favorite gangster movies. Scorsese is a man who knows good movies, so it’d probably do us all a lot of good to watch every movie he mentions here. (Via @TCMOnAir.)
  • A David Cronenberg Blogathon happened! Sadly, I wasn’t able to write for it, but for what it’s worth, here’s a post I wrote about Cronenberg at Happy Postmodernists back in July.
  • Jezebel recently had a piece about a new trailer for David Fincher’s The Social Network. I’ll admit I’m excited for the movie: some of the lines sound kind of ridiculous (they are talking about Facebook, after all), but Jesse Eisenberg looks so earnest and jittery as Mark “No privacy for you!” Zuckerberg. What do you think?
  • Also via Jezebel: the voice of Daria’s Daria, Tracy Grandstaff, answers questions from luminaries like Diablo Cody.

And now for some crazy-ass search terms! Unfortunately, we’ve had a dearth of truly bizarre searches lately. It’s mainly just been the usual “snails in pussy” or “fuck in my hair” nonsense. However, there was this: “horror movie scene woman forcibly milked.” I don’t know what movie that’s from, but it sounds pretty horrifying.

Less horrifying but more odd was this: “18th century renaissance pussy fucking.” While the searcher’s sense of history is a little off (the 18th century was the Age of Enlightenment; the Renaissance was long over), I still hope that they were able to find the powdered-wig-and-petticoat porn they were looking for.

  • Addendum: I just discovered this 8-bit video game based on The Room from Newgrounds. It’s time-consuming, but hilarious. If Johnny’s your favorite customer, be sure to check it out.

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