Tag Archives: slasher movies

Scream and Scream Again

I wrote something about slasher movies! You can read it now on The Hooded Utilitarian. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Phantasm, Child’s Play… all their sequels are under discussion. Their quirks, their staggering lapses in logic, and their (mostly vain) attempts to make that “kill, kill, kill” formula seem fresh again. Thanks to HU for publishing it!

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The [totally awesome!] life of Lynda Van der Klok: a love letter to P.J. Soles

By Ashley

I, like many other people participating in this blogathon, am totally enamored with P.J. Soles. There’s just something about her that is so charming and irresistible, despite the fact that a lot of the characters she portrays are very catty, overly perky, backbiting and condescendingly, unabashedly bitchy. It doesn’t matter; once you see that thick golden hair and that mischievous, toothy smile, she’s reeled you in and you’re a fan for life.  I’ve never met anyone who (if they know who P.J. Soles is) dislikes her and I never hope to.

It took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to concentrate on when I wrote this: should I just write about her and her awesomeness in general? Should I write about the first time I saw (and loved) her in Carrie? Should I finally do what’s long overdue and watch Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and talk about how she definitely should have been a lead actress more often? Should I take the less traveled path and write about some of her later work, maybe her part in Jawbreaker?  So many choices! Ultimately though, I decided to keep it simple—I’ve decided to do a visual analysis of her portrayal of Lynda from Halloween.

Lynda is Jamie Lee Curtis’s slightly bitchy, ultra-perky, self-indulgent friend who doesn’t understand why Curtis’s Laurie spends every weekend babysitting instead of getting drunk and hooking up. Soles is the wild child to Curtis’s straight lace, which means that she’s doomed from the start.

We first see Lynda as she and Laurie are leaving the school. Lynda is having a rapid one-sided conversation about cheerleading and makeup while Laurie looks uninterested. This is what strikes me as so amazing about P.J. Soles: even if the characters she plays are annoyingly vapid, backstabbing, or bitchy, she’s just so compelling as an actress that we like her—nay, love her—just as much as we do more pleasant characters.

As I grabbed screenshots for this post I realized that just watching isolated images of P.J. Soles from the movie makes it seem like an average high school flick, right up until the part where she gets the fuck strangled out of her. (I once saw an interview wherein P.J. Soles said that she milked her death for all it was worth so she would have more screen time, which is why we have the delightfully ridiculous continuing moans and gasps even after she’s been out of frame for like 30 seconds.) With that said, I now present:

Lynda Van der Klok: A Story in Pictures

And so there you have it! The life, loves, and death of Lynda Van der Klok. You were, like, totally awesome, Lynda. Totally RIP.

For more P.J Soles goodness check out the week long blogathon over at Day of the Woman!

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Playful Hitchcock

How do you even write about Psycho? It’s one of the most analyzed films of all time, it’s the seed from which all slasher movies sprouted, and it’s an absolute, still-terrifying masterpiece. It’s got a giant reputation, and it’s the one film most identified with the name (and style) of Alfred Hitchcock. Luckily, I don’t really have to write about it! I just have to pick my favorite image, because Psycho‘s the most recent selection for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

One of my favorite things about Psycho (and there are a lot of them) is the way Hitchcock structures parts of the film as little games or sick jokes at the expense of the viewers. It’s a dark, scary movie, to be sure, but you get a definite sense of playfulness in how Hitch toys with film grammar to manipulate the audience. Take, for example, the repeated shot of the patrolman leering at Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) from across the street as she urgently tries to trade in her car:

He just stands there, leaning against his car, and the camera glances back at him every few seconds. As Marion completes her transaction, this shot is repeated so many times it’s almost ridiculous, but it’s still effective. Like Marion, we become nervous. It feels like we’re compulsively checking over our collective shoulders and, sure enough, he’s still there. It’s editing that’s more expressionistic than functional, and it helps drag us into alliance with poor, guilt-ridden Marion. Hitchcock also plays around with framing, as in this instantly recognizable shot:

Nobody’s behind her. Not yet, anyway. We’ve been casually watching Marion showering in close-ups and medium shots,when in a barely noticeable transition, she moves from the center of the frame to off in the lower-right corner. This shot is held for about 2-3 solid seconds before we get any background movement or silhouettes. It’s a subtle warning to the audience that someone is about to arrive—or, alternatively, Hitchcock rolling out the welcome mat for his shadow-shrouded killer. It’s yet another manifestation of his giddy, self-conscious visual style.

But neither of these, clever as they are, constitute my favorite shot in Psycho. For that, I go to a reaction shot. Just a plain, superficially unremarkable reaction shot showing Lila Crane (Vera Miles) gazing inside a book. It’s also probably my favorite reaction shot in any movie, ever:

It’s a testament to Hitchcock’s restraint and Miles’ range of expression that they don’t overplay this moment. She doesn’t shriek or gasp or drop the book or anything. In fact, we never find out what she does, because a second later, we cut away to Sam and Norman arguing back in the motel. The next time we see Lila, she’s running to hide in the fruit cellar. The book is unmarked by a title or cover illustration; it just has two little symbols on the binding. Since it’s lying randomly in Norman’s childhood room, it might well be a book of bedtime stories or nursery names.

But we never find out. And since the Bates household is such an inherently creepy place, and since Lila assumes this ambiguous look of curiosity (or is it concern? or surprise? or muted horror?), we’re left to wonder. Was it a manual on corpse preservation? Was it the Bates family’s photo album? Was it hollowed out and used to contain chunks of human flesh? Unless there’s a lost insert shot that turns up someday, we’ll never know. This reaction shot, with Vera Miles’ downturned eyes, is our only glimpse into what might just contain the Bates family’s darkest horrors.

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I Scream, You Scream

During the protracted climax of Ice Cream Man (1995), the title character has a miniature meltdown. He screams, “You kids don’t want to play with the ice cream man? You like his treats, but you don’t stick by him when he needs ya!” This, after he’s committed several murders and a kidnapping. The tirade really captures the mood of this cheap, obscure oddity: child-oriented, sprinkled with occasional pathos, and very messed up, mostly thanks to Clint Howard (Ron’s brother) and his hysterical performance as a homicidal purveyor of frozen treats.

I’m still not clear on who Ice Cream Man’s target audience is. The protagonists—a group of white suburban preteens who call themselves the “Rocketeers”—could be right out of an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps, both of which were on TV at the time this film was made. The characters, setting, inane dialogue, and syrupy music all make Ice Cream Man feel like a big-screen analogue of those shows, similarly intended for consumption by kids under age 13 or so.

However, it’s also extremely gory, containing some mutilations, decapitations, a dog killing, and other gruesome sights clearly not meant for kids’ eyes. Plus, it was directed by “Norman Apstein,” aka porno director Paul Norman, whose most recent releases include Hungry Holes (2000) and Sperm Bitches (2001). The film reflects that fact, to some degree, in the weird softcore sequences where the ice cream man is nearly seduced by a local horny housewife (and, naturally, ends up splattered in her blood). So: who was Ice Cream Man intended for? Was it specifically made to be forgotten, and then rediscovered by nostalgic adults over a decade later?

These apparent contradictions are compounded by all the film’s deeply quirky touches. For example, one of the kids’ fathers is a minister with a British accent, and while giving a sermon he appears to have stigmata. (No explanation given, of course.) Later, the film seems to forget that it’s even about an ice cream man, as it follows a pair of cops into the chaotic Wishing Well Sanitarium, where the babbling inmates run the asylum. (As you can guess, this film doesn’t exactly give an accurate portrayal of mental illness.) This is just skimming the surface, though, as it’d take a while to catalog the film’s bizarre glimpses of Stockholm syndrome, police brutality, and amateur pornography.

For all its pervasive strangeness, though, the real crux of Ice Cream Man is Clint Howard as the severely disturbed ice cream man Gregory Tudor. It’s hard to tell where he’s coming from with his erratic, demented performance; he dishes out Fudgesicles as if he’s Igor handing Dr. Frankenstein a human brain. Howard, with his giant forehead and crooked teeth, is perfectly equipped for every tic, twitch, and menacing inflection that defines Gregory’s psychosis. He’s like Pee-Wee Herman, Freddy Krueger, and Larry from the Three Stooges rolled into one. (Ashley adds an uglier, creepier version of Paul Giamatti as a point of comparison.)

Needless to say, Howard makes for a very unique slasher villain, and the film’s only real selling point. I can’t seriously recommend it as anything like a “good movie,” but it’s definitely ironically enjoyable. If you’re into gratuitous gore, it has plenty of that as well, including a memorable hacked-off-heads-as-puppets scenes and what may be the only death-by-waffle-iron in all of cinema. It’s a curio of the mid-’90s, when the late-period slasher film collided with the surge of children’s horror media under the guidance of an experienced pornographer—and the result was deeply, powerfully weird.

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Link Dump: #25

I found The Amityville Horror ’79 to be pretty underwhelming overall. I love haunted house movies, but this one wouldn’t fucking end, and it was basically the same series of events repeated endlessly. (The homeowners noticed something odd/violent, then shrugged it off.) Even Rod Steiger as a blind priest couldn’t save it. However, it did have a memorable moment where the black cat above bursts into sight, then disappears forever, as if to say, “KITTY!” (or maybe “Your house is haunted!) So keep that in mind if your house ever starts acting funny. Till then, here are some spooky haunted links:

  • Self-promotion alert! I recently reviewed a truly terrible independent horror movie called M.O.N. over at 366 Weird Movies. I sacrificed a whole hour of my life to watch this shit. Those are the breaks.
  • Moving Image Source has a great piece by Paul Brunick on Joseph McBride, film biography, and Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind.
  • Also from Moving Image Source, we’ve got a great essay by Lindsay Peters on the sci-fi movies produced by the Left Bank filmmakers of the French New Wave! (I <3 Marker and Resnais’s sci-fi, so this piece gets my gold star. Kudos to Moving Image Source!)
  • Some Guy On the Net has a very deep understanding of what makes Toy Story 3 such a win: its depiction of love.
  • This “Famous Objects from Classic Movies” game is fun and addictive, and doesn’t always go with the obvious choices. Thankfully, it has an ending point!
  • If you haven’t glanced over these passive-aggressive emails sent by Donald Rumsfeld, regarding Condoleeza Rice, now is the time. It gives a very interesting (read: horrifying) impression of the people who ran this country for almost a decade.
  • I plan to talk about Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in the near future. In the meantime, you can read two great interviews with its director, Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, at The A.V. Club and PopMatters. He sounds like a very affable, intelligent, and creative guy, which is no surprise considering his body of work.
  • The Horror Digest‘s Andre Dumas does one of my favorite things: questions received wisdom about film history. Specifically, she wrote about Thirteen Women (1932), starring The Thin Man‘s Myrna Loy, which could lay claim to being “the first slasher.”
  • Five words: David Lynch’s Dune coloring book.

Sadly, the strangest search terms we had all involved rape, so I decided not to post them. I’ll leave you with this: “nope cant find a single fuck.”

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