Monday, February 21, 2011

The Video Nasty: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

Quest for the Video Nasty (Main Page)

“Material depicting the violent mutilation, torture, death and cannibalism of those involved has been found to have tendency to deprave and corrupt. Such scenes that are explicit and/or lingering can indicate to the viewer approval or encouragement of the behavior involved thereby normalizing the depraving or corrupting behaviors.”

The purpose of these video nasty posts is to not only discuss what the film is about but also to state my initially reaction to the film is, and why it was classified as a ‘Video Nasty.’ I had looked over the ‘Nasty’ guidelines and decided to break down the film into each of the five components. For my Video Nasty quest, this is the structure for how I will post the video nasties to Paradise of Horror.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (or as I know it by The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) follows the story of two young British people who inadvertently become the suspects of a murder. The police chief of the town is so convinced that the two are the murderers that he denies anything that doesn’t support his pre-convinced mind, however it turns out that he is wrong. The people that were responsible for the murder are the walking dead who allegedly were re-animated after an experimental sound testing went wrong. Now the two youths (a young woman and a free-spirited hippie) must find a way to stop the living dead from taking over the town but also find a way to clear their name from the murder.

The first time I saw this it was in a class screening for a zombie course I took but I fell asleep about 10 minutes into it, which was a shame because I really wanted to watch it. After viewing it in it’s entirety I’ve come to enjoy it, even though it can be pretty slow paced and generally uneventful… it still keeps you on wondering what will happen next. I feel as though it’s more of a mystery thriller rather than horror, only because the climax is where you have the gore fest. The characters are unlikable but strangely you feel for their cause and you want them to win but what about the gore? Well, let’s look at the video nasty criteria.

- Who is the perpetrator and what is their reaction?

The perpetrators in this film are the zombies, since they have been raised after ultra-sonic sounds jump-started their dead brains. They are seem to be angry that they have been disturbed so they go on a brutal and bloody rampage throughout the countryside killing all the people in their way. They are mindless so there is some level of sympathy for them.

- Who is the victim and what is their reaction?

There are many victims throughout the film but the main victims seem to be Edna and George since they are the ones that are wrongfully accused and pursued by the undead. They’re reactions seem to be frightened, confused, stressed and terrified out of their mind. Being in this situation made Edna a typical damsel in distress whereas George became more driven, no-nonsense and always ends up saving Edna’s ass.

- How is the violence inflicted and in what circumstances?

The violence is inflicted by the only possible way in a zombie film, groups of zombies devouring the flesh of the living. They dig into the victim’s stomach pulling out their organs and consuming them, they squeeze their heads, they surprise attack their victims only to ear their skin and in one case a zombie strangles a man to death. Aside from the cannibalism, there are scenes depicting zombies being burnt to death and shot at in effort to survive their attacks.

- How explicit, prolonged and realistic are the scenes?

The graphic scenes of blood and gore are pretty explicit since it does show the zombies eating organs, doused in blood, casually. There are several times where the zombie are pulling apart their victim’s stomachs in which streams of blood flow out from their hands. However, the entire film is not a bloodbath because overall it was rare to see anything graphic until the very end of the film. Though they seemed pretty realistic, a lot of the ‘pulling apart’ scenes were cut before the entire scene turned into a total bloodbath. Showing the zombies eating the organs was covered extensively.

- Is the violence justifiable in the context of the film?

Though the cannibalism may seem sporadic, it adds to the horror of the film and it wouldn’t be a zombie film without it so it would be justifiable. At times it felt like the director just wanted to gross out the audience but who wouldn’t want to try that? Then that always raises the question, “why make a zombie film?” The answer is because it was more than just a splatter flick, but rather social commentary. The film wasn’t chuck-full of gore and vivisection… it used the scenes wisely.

So is this film a ‘video nasty’ by the violence alone? I don’t think it should have been considering that the violence and gore was seldom save for the film’s climax. I’m sure there are much worse films out there that depicted gore and bloodshed, in fact, half way into the film I had to make sure that this was a ‘video nasty’ because up to that point I only saw a zombie get hit with a rock. I could see where one might consider it too graphic (ex: showing the zombies take delight in eating somebody’s liver) but it was a 2-minute scene. Overall, it was a fun and entertaining watch with some really bad acting/voice dubs but not 100% deserving of the ‘video nasty’ title.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gunther in Profile

Crawlspace isn’t your typical slasher movie; in fact, there are things in it that make it more of a ‘torture porn’ move than anything. Aside from some of the unusual conventions it makes, the film really studies the villain as opposed to the survival girl. She doesn’t even seem like a character that’s worth discussion, and she doesn’t really add anything to the film. No, this movie is centered on the villain and his character and what is about. Very rarely to horror films take this approach because most of the time we enjoy the villains, they’re more fascinating but the story never unravels their character. Crawlspace gave us a near-in depth look at the villain known as Dr. Gunther, the psychotic son of a Nazi SS scientist. Just by the sound of him, he’s much more different than your typical serial killer.

Before I dive into Gunther’s past and what makes him such a fascinating killer, I want to briefly review his character as the movie shows us. At first look, he seems like a really nice old man; he dresses nicely, he talks firm and confident and he seems to enjoy female company. However, there is a dark side to Gunther’s personality. He secretly kidnaps, tortures and kills the tenants that he rents rooms out to. He craws around in the ventilation shafts, baiting his victims into looking inside the vents, then throws rats at their faces. He seems to get a really perverted pleasure in tormenting young women with rats. In his attic study, he develops tools and contraptions for his torture, he writes in his diary and keeps a skinny woman caged up like an animal. We don’t know how long she has been there but she doesn’t have a tongue and she constantly asks Gunther to kill her. It is revealed through diary entries (voiceovers in the film) that he use to kill in the name of science but now he kills because it’s an addiction, a pleasure, a good feeling. This would be him in a nutshell but I want to expand on him.

He writes a lot in his diary and through his diary we are first introduced to the fact that he was once a scientist who use to experiment on human subjects, which would often result in death. Based off of this we can assume that, if he were normal, he would have been a brilliant. He goes on to state that he kills, as of now, because he’s addicted to it and because it makes him feel good. I can only assume that he gets a perverse pleasure from taking away somebody’s life and this is where a lot of slasher movies tangent off. Most slasher villains kill because A) they want revenge. B) Some tragedy caused them to snap. C) Because it’s fun. D) To prove a point. Gunther isn’t after revenge, he didn’t have a tragedy by most slasher standards, he doesn’t find it fun and he isn’t proving a point. He’s doing it because he needs to fulfill his needs; to fulfill his compulsion and his drive. Nevertheless, he is aware of what he is doing and like the rule goes, in order to be insane you have to not know what you are doing. Gunther understands what he is doing is murder but still proceeds. There is nothing worse than having a sadistic killer, who is after you, that’s aware of what he is doing.

Upon further diary entries we now understand why he feels so addicted to murder and why he must fulfill it. As a doctor, he believes that the power of life and death rests within his (and presumably other doctors) hands and that power makes him feel like a God. He states that it’s easy to give life or to preserve life but to take away a life is something that only God or nature can do, which is why he feels so powerful and fulfilled when he murders. It isn’t a sexual attraction or some perverse thrill but rather a perverse feeling of empowerment. So in that case, he isn’t necessarily addicted to killing as he addicted to power and in order to show power… he’ll sadistically kill people. Again, while most serial killers murder because the enjoy murder, they don’t necessarily murder to show they are in power but rather to horrify and impose. Because of this ideology he believes that he is “he is his own judge, jury and executioner” and this entitlement means that he is God of himself, and that he is a God of sorts. Following his journal entry he puts on a German SS cap and yells, “all hail, Gunther!” while he watches stock footage of Hitler speaking. We can assume that he, not only views Hitler as an inspiration, but that he is completely lost within his own world.

Now lets take a bite into Gunther’s past. After a mysterious man visits him we realize that his father was a renowned Nazi scientist that did horrible experiments to the Jewish. This man shows him newspaper clippings with photos of his father. He goes on to tell us, and him, that he was once a medical doctor working at a hospital in which all 60+ patience died under his care (one of which was the brother of the man). This is further proof that Gunther was a brilliant man and he could have done something astonishing had he not been brought up the way he did. If you recall, I said that Gunther didn’t have a tragedy in his life this is still true because that would mean that he would have had on tragedy to make him a monster. The fact is, his entire life was a tragedy because his father brought him up as a huge Nazi supporter when he was young. Seeing himself, as a little boy saluting Hitler, made Gunther cry. I’ve never seen a killer do this before and it tells me that Gunther, deep down inside, hates what he has become and that he blames it on his father or what was happening in Germany at the time. Perhaps he isn’t just a mad scientist but maybe his is a tragic villain.

Why do I think that Gunther hates himself? Because every time he murders somebody he goes into a room, puts a bullet with his name on it into a gun, spins the chamber and pulls the trigger. If the bullet doesn’t kill him, he says, “so be it” and continues to kill. He holds up to his idea that he is his own executioner and that fate will decide when he should die. This twisted ritual seems to be his sort of punishment as well as his game. Many times he suppresses the trigger twice or three times to tempt fate but he always ends up living, and during these instances you can really feel that he wants to die. I think he understands he is a monster and he wants to die but luck won’t let him and that makes him depressed… so kills to make himself feel happy and powerful again.

Gunther isn’t your average serial killer; in fact his personality seems to rival that of Buffalo Bill from the Silence of the Lambs. Gunther is something else, he loves to kill but it’s understood that he has hated what he has become, and perhaps he blames his father for it. In the end of things, I sort of felt sorry for him because he does have an affectionate side. He loved his white kitten and he didn’t want to be alone so there has to be a normal person behind all that makeup and blood. He’s certainly not your typical villain and I think I only scratched the surface of Gunther’s mind.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Montage of The Fly

So, in our experimental editing class we had to come up with some footage and use it to convey Eisenstein’s theory of montage. We had to use the ideology, also, set forth by Kuleshov to show how two or three images could be combined to create a different meaning (ie: shot of man + shot of soup = man is hungry). It’s a very simple idea but back when film was first being invented, it was relatively new and groundbreaking. For this project I chose some footage from Cronenberg’s The Fly. I took three vastly different moments in the film, spliced them together, and made a whole other theme. It’s broken up into three segments: basic montage, basic montage II, and a final montage. Try to guess what the last montage means.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Concealing the Intruder

I want to first go on the record and say that Intruder was phenomenal. Sure it had its corny moments but as far as the technicalities go, the film was a major achievement in terms of slasher. Not only where we brought to the days of Black Christmas with its lighting schematic but director Scott Spiegel two underrated techniques to give this serial killer movie an edge. The first was the clever editing style, which I will elaborate on soon. The Second, and the one I want to show, is the way he cleverly conceals the killer. We’ve seen this happen many times before, but at times he tributes Halloween and times when it’s original. Most of them reminded me of an art house movie, or at least a time when the atmosphere of the film overshadowed the body count.

Below are pictures of the kills but notice how in a couple of them Spiegel decides to hide the killer’s identity. It’s rather genius in some cases.

I think it’s funny that a movie that’s 21 years old still has technicalities that horror movies today don’t have. Movies of today lack what Intruder has. It goes to show you that just because you have a big budget doesn’t mean the movie will be good.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Doll is a Child's Best Friend

Remember the good old days when playing with your toys was the greatest part of the day? When it was you, your favorite doll or action figure and your imagination. The way that you appreciated your toys so much that you were saddened when one of them was broken and was thrown out. Toys were loyal to kids; they possessed special kind of magic that made them bond with us to the very end. It sounds like Toy Story but I am actually talking about Stuart Gordon’s daunting story called Dolls, made 8 years before Toy Story came along. Even though it’s scares are a little cheap, the story is very whimsical and offers something that I haven’t seen in a horror movie before. There is a rather harmonious, magical undertone to this film and proposes something for all us horror fans to muse over.

At its core, Dolls is about a girl who has been really oppressed by her unloving father and her hateful stepmother (it already sounds like a fairy tale). While spending the night in a mansion during a storm, a very nice but creepy old man gives her a hand-made doll to play with… seeing as how a little girl should always have a doll to play with. This is the foundation in which the fairy tale of Dolls is based on. This part of the story is rather beautiful because it’s almost Gordon’s ode to childhood imagination and the innocents of being a little again. The young girl, Judy, has such a vivid imagination that the toys in the mansion begin defending her. In fact, the old man that gives her a doll tells her that imagination is the key to becoming a wise person. He defends Judy against her parents and even goes as far as to be a sort of father figure for her.

Gordon preserves her innocents and I am sure that many of us can identify with her. I’m sure that most of us, especially the creative types, were made fun of for having an overactive imagination and Gordon runs with this experience. The dolls/toys act as Judy’s imagination, stepping out of her mind and defending themselves to those who don’t believe. Considering that toys are usually the medium in which we channel our thoughts, it would make sense that they would be the ones to attack. There is a gruesome scene where Judy sees one of the guests get maimed by the dolls and she just stands there, grossed out, clutching her doll. Her face is filled with childhood ignorance and misunderstanding; as if she is too young to know what just happened.

However, the one person whom I’m sure we can all identify is a middle-aged motorist that also ends up spending the night in the mansion. He is a very lovable but sometimes clumsy man whose father told him about the toys and how they come to life when we sleep. It reminded me of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. His father said that they also eat special kinds of toy cookies so even if you left food out, they wouldn’t eat it. I’m sure we can all relate when our parents told us stories like these to keep our imaginations flowing. Ralph is much like Judy because he is a child at heart but he told the old toymaker that he stopped believing in the magic. When asked why he said, “he grew old.” I can vouch for him because I too, as I grew older, lost my sense of imagination but as the old man stated from the film: “we’re never to old to have an imagination” let alone believe in the magic that bound us to our toys.

Here is where I believe that the film is challenging us viewers. Perhaps when we were kids we had some of the craziest stories and playtime activities because of what we created in our heads. I remember as a kid I always thought the song Rhapsody in Blue was actually Rap City and Blues. I was always under the impression that the Jeepers Creepers poster was showing a football and not stitched up body. I use to draw, paint, build legos and play ‘save the world’ with my action figures. I would create vast settings out of Legos and Playmobiles and make my action figures do crazy stunts. I wish I could go back in time and still do those things or even now but I can’t because I don’t have the imagination for it. The old man in Dolls was right, when we get older we loose touch with our creative sides but maybe we can change that if we allow ourselves to let our minds free.

I think that is what Gordon wanted us to take from his movie. That our toys, be it action figures or dolls, were our best play friends. They were always there for us when we were sad or bored or when it was rainy. If there was some bit of magic in them I am sure they would find their way back to us. In fact, I still remember my favorite toy that I had. It was a Dr. Allan Grant action figure from the ‘electronic’ Jurassic Park Command Compound playset. That toy was the best toy I ever had. Just think about it, our favorite toys were really there for us… making them our best friends.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tragedy Brings A Family Together

We’ve all heard the saying: tragedy brings people together. Unfortunately this is very true. When a family member dies, more likely than a marriage, the entire family is there but on any other occasion you won’t see them. During floods, disasters, war or famine families will ban together to help each other out but if there wasn’t any outside disastrous force… they probably won’t be nearly as close as they were. I have been watching Signs over and over and I always thought it was interesting that every time there is some kind of alien contact or foreboding incident, the Hess family is together. This is opposed to when there isn’t anything happening and they are together but not moralistically or mentally. I find it very unique that, in Sign’s case, it takes an alien invasion to not only bring the family together but also give Graham his faith in God back. To truly understand the family you must go into their past before the aliens even came to Earth.

Before anything happened, Graham was a loving father who also happened to be a Father at his church. He had a daughter, a son and a very loving wife and his brother lived with them to help on the farm. It wasn’t until his wife was killed when the town veterinarian fell asleep at the wheel and pinned her up against a tree. Ever since then, Graham lost his faith and his family had been torn apart. His kids became more connected with their Uncle Merrill, perhaps because they realized that their father had changed for the worst. There is a great sequence when the Hess family visits their town and everybody parts their separate ways, effectively showing that the family is slowly breaking apart. When they finally do meet up for pizza, they eat together but they don’t really talk that much or make eye contact. It’s a wonderful visual showing that even when the family is together, they aren’t really together.

What’s truly interesting is what happens when they finally come back home. Morgan, the son, had previously taken his sister’s old baby monitors to use as walkie-talkies. When they come home, the baby monitor begins picking up radio waves that are being broadcasted from the aliens. This is the first time we ever see the family work together like an actual family; it’s actually very inspiring to see them help each other get on the car and to hold hands. It’s also good to note that in order for them to get a good clear signal the entire family needs to be holding each other’s hands as if the aliens, by some divine force, are making them become more connect with each other. Perhaps in this case, the outside threatening force is literally bringing the family close to each other.

As the film progresses, the family becomes more and more like a family that’s not to say without some hostility. One scene that comes to mind is after Graham’s encounter with the alien inside the vet’s pantry; he comes home and asks Morgan what would happen if the aliens were hostile then takes a family vote on whether they should stay or leave their home. It’s pleasant to see them decide as a family but it’s at this point that you understand why Graham’s kids feel so disassociated with him; he can be very stubborn at times.

The most defining moment for the entire family comes near the end. During the family’s ‘last supper’ Morgan wants to say a prayer but Graham insists that they just sit and eat and when he sees that nobody is doing so he begins to grab food off other people’s plate. Morgan and his sister Bo begin to cry as Merrill stares at Graham with disgust. It’s such a heartbreaking moment because you realize that Graham, even in the midst of his stubbornness, comes to an epiphany and realizes that he is hurting the family. As he breaks down and cries, his son, daughter and brother begin to hug him. I think it’s at that moment that the family truly realizes how distant they became from each other and perhaps that given the circumstances, this moment would have never happened.

Think about it. If Graham didn’t encounter the alien in the pantry, there would be no family vote. If Morgan didn’t accidentally contact aliens with the monitor, the family wouldn’t have learned to work together. If it wasn’t for the aliens coming to Earth in the first place, none of these things would happen and there would be no ‘last supper.’ As the family sleeps in the cellar as the aliens ransack the house, Graham is holding Morgan tightly unwilling to let him go and it’s such a touching moment because Morgan is the only character to truly show his hatred for his dad. In the end, after being reborn, he looks upon him with loving eyes. Maybe the aliens were a metaphor for the family’s inner problems and that they would have to work together in order to overcome them.

There is a very disturbing picture in one of Morgan’s alien books showing a home that looks exactly like the Hess’s home being burnt down by an alien ship. Outside, lying dead in the yard and on fire, are three bodies. Graham makes the observation that it looks like them. This is what would happen if the Hess family did not decide to let bygones be bygones. They would have ended up killing themselves, maybe not literally but emotionally. It’s further proof that tragedies bring people together because it lets us know whom we truly value and love; who we can count on and whom we can work together with.