Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hollywood Video Memories: Carnival of Souls (1998)

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I use to watch this movie back when I was a kid and I remember the day that I went into Hollywood Video and saw the box cover in all it’s frightening glory. This was yet another case where I based the movie solely on what I saw on the box cover: the creepy silhouette of a clown that was mostly in shadow save for his demonic eye makeup. The ghostly carnival behind him that seemed like hell and the colorful balloons that had images of twisted demons and people in pain. All of it was enough to make me grab the VHS as much as I could, but I always wondered why I was the only one who seemed to rent it out. At the time, I didn’t know it was a remake and I also thought that Wes Craven directed it since it said, “Wes Craven Presents,” so naturally I thought it would be a great movie. From a child’s standpoint, it’s scary… very scary but from a more mature standpoint… well we’ll get to that soon.

Taking out the fact that this is a remake, the movie follows a young bartender named Alex Grant who, as a little girl, saw her mother raped and murdered by Louis Seagram who works as a clown for the local carnival. Emotionally and mentally scarred by this incident, she tries to live a normal life in the town she grew up in but she is constantly reminded of the terrible afternoon when it all happened. As the movie progresses she keeps having apparitions of these deformed monsters harassing her, and soon she begins seeing Louis everywhere even when the police tell her that he’s dead. It all boils down to that fateful night when she first met him at the carnival. Perhaps the only way that she could save her sanity is by going back to the carnival and confronting her demons once and for all.

There were several scenes that scared me and several scenes that would later influence me into becoming a filmmaker. Specifically, the scene that always stood out to me, more than any of the others, was the car wash sequence. It was probably the best scene because it really put you in this nightmarish world and I remember fighting with my mom every time we would go into a car wash, mainly because I didn’t want demons jumping out at me. To describe the scene wouldn’t nearly be as effective if you see it but I’ll try and do my best: as the car enters the car wash we are immediately bombarded with streams and jets of water, that in its own right is pretty creepy, then bright flashes begin to appear all around you and you begin to hear thunder as though you are driving through a storm. People pop out of random to wash your car but they have these faces of anger and sadism in their eyes, soon, you begin hearing these screeches and before you could even find out where they’re coming from some demon with a twisted, mangled face lunges at you. It was frightening for me to see this and I begin to develop a slight fear of car washes.

While on the topic of creatures, I love the creature design in this movie. I remember getting so freaked out by the way they look and they way they jump out at you, that I wanted to know everything about them. I wanted to know how they looked, how they were made and what the name of the effect is where you speed up footage of somebody shaking their head. This would serve as a catalyst for me to inevitably get into the movie making business. My research led me to a movie called Jacob’s Ladder because somebody stated that Carnival of Souls was a rip-off of Jacob’s Ladder. So, I thought Jacob’s Ladder was the original movie that had the “shaky-head ghosts.” Little did I know that the person was talking about the storyline and not the creature effects. But, that scene where all the creatures were sitting around the table staring at you will forever be burned into my brain. I can’t tell you how many times I would pause the tape on that moment and stare at that image, just trying to absorb their image. Honestly, I can go on and on about all the different memories I have attached to this film but I figure you want to know what I think about the movie now.

It’s obvious that I loved this movie as a kid but how does it fare up to now? Honestly, it’s not bad but it’s far from good and that’s if I stretch it out. Let me elaborate on the good things about the film. First off, the production design, though small as it was, was really surreal and very dream like. I’m not just talking about the car wash scene but the scene when Alex is walking through the carnival; there are just subtle visuals that give the carnival this ghostly surreal feel. Take for example, when Alex is walking down the row of carnival games and everybody keeps looking at her as she walks buy, if you look closely their faces are all pale and dead. More specifically, the scene where Alex finally confronts Louis has that nightmarish carnival quality to it and I’m talking about the over-sized bed and the melting clown in the background. I have to hand it to the production for making a really well made movie and the acting isn’t too bad either. It’s certainly not Oscar worthy but it’s better than most horror remakes and the overall tone of the movie wasn’t “glossy,” for lack of a better term.

There is only one problem and that problem affects the entire the entire movie and makes it almost impossible to get through. The story keeps jumping around, first you are in the dream-world (nod to Nightmare on Elm Street), then you’re back into reality, but then reality becomes the dream, then you wake up into realty 2, but that also becomes a dream so you’re constantly trying to figure out where you are in the film. This one problem distracts me from the entire plot and makes it a chore to get through. This was a problem that Jacob’s Ladder and the original Carnival of Souls didn’t have. The original had a set mood, a creepy mood might I add, that didn’t bounce back and forth but rather showed you the progression of this woman’s insanity. Jacob’s Ladder bounced back and forth but because the entire movie was set in the reality, the “dreams” acted as hallucinations and you excepted that Jacob was descending to hell. The end of this remake leaves you left puzzled and angry because all the buildup and all the confusion didn’t pay off. That was a huge problem.

I expected this movie to be awful. I expected to turn it off within the first 10 minutes but I was pleasantly surprised that visually the film is nice but as far as writing goes… that’s another story. It’s not the amazing movie I grew up with and I’ll probably never see it again (at least not for a long time) but I enjoyed watching it for nostalgic reasons. It brought back memories of me anxiously waiting to get home to pop this sucker into the VHS player and watch it all night. It reminded me of being a kid again and even though, to most people, the film is absolute shit it made me smile at times. I don’t think many people are aware that there is a remake of Carnival of Souls, let alone knowing that a movie called Carnival of Souls existed back in the 60’s but perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps its obscurity would give it cult movie status and maybe that’s the only way people would like it. As for me, I’m just glad I got to revisit the demons of my childhood and I feel as though I should follow this up with Jacob’s Ladder since that was also a childhood favorite. So until then, here’s to you my “shaky headed demons” from the deepest pit of my childhood:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Redneck Absurdity: A Pictorial Journey

Very rarely do I ever find a movie that is so bad that not only is it good, but also highly enjoyable, highly entertaining and forces you to take an LSD trip into dimension that you never knew existed. So, naturally I had to look into the 80’s and I stumbled upon a Troma Release movie named Redneck Zombies and apparently it has a huge cult following. It’s considered schlock at its best but I’d go further to say that it’s absurdity and insanity at its best. To properly describe that level of wackiness wouldn’t do it justice because some things you’d have to see to believe but I figure I can do some justice as to how ridiculous this film can be.

First, you gotta love how they portray hillbillies or Southern folk in this movie. It’s absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top and stereotypical… but it’s funny as hell. Every country person is either fat, dumb or missing teeth and what’s better is that one of the country bumpkins might be gay, so now you have a dumb hick who likes to wear his shirts bunched up into a knot. Surprisingly, he seems like the more intelligent one of the crowd.

Also, for some reason there is a scene that has really oily, greasy breasts getting fondled. I can’t remember but I think this was part of a porno that somebody was watching but either way, when the movie cuts directly do this you’re sort of left in awe. It’s disgustingly laughable.

If I had a dollar for every video filter that they use, I’d have enough money to eat a five-star restaurant. However, there is an upside to using programmed video filters, it makes the movie seem really dated and really corny… which, I’m sure, is what the director was going for. The scene where all the country hicks are drinking the contaminated waste (thinking it was alcohol) is so trippy that you actually feel like you’re on LSD. So, in a way, the filters are very affective.

There’s also a random scene with a woman with missing teeth, an orange plaid dress holding a baby pig in one hand and a skillet in the other. Why is she holding these things? Does it really matter?

Oh, and I love the people that end up buying the toxic waste because they are so random and they’re obviously doing something wrong but nobody really acknowledges it. For example, one woman seems to be washing her baby in a laundry machine.

In another house, the guy who buys the contaminated alcohol is a butcher with blood smeared all over his smock and his son or partner is sitting on the couch with a hostage. All he does is sits there on the couch smiling, giggling and licker her while she pleads for help yet nobody does anything. I guess it’s really common in that neck of the woods.

And we can’t forget the 2001: Space Odyssey-like dimension that we enter half way into the movie. It’s like a rainbow nightmare and only serves one purpose, to whack us out of our heads and maybe show that one character is going crazy.

Who is this character that is having this colorful hallucination? Why, somebody who has been exposed to powerful hallucinogens and thinks that the dead body in front of him is some kind of treasure chest. Harhar! Yeah, he ends up pulling out the guy’s organs thinking they’re regular objects but doesn’t realize that he’s disemboweling him.

And obviously care nobody cares about it. They just look at him like he’s crazy.

Oh and it all leads up to one gory, disgusting, blood-soaked finale that reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So, if there is anything you should take from this post it’s to find and watch this movie. It’s hysterical for all the wrongfully right reasons and it certainly is one of the strangest zombie movie’s I’ve seen since The Video Dead. If a movie like this came out today, and if it was shot on video like this one, it would never make it and people would slam it instantly. Fortunately, you could get away with this in the 80’s and thank God Troma was around to showcase it. It’s bloody fun for the whole family and worth a watch but you must leave your brain at the door.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top 9 Beautiful Horror Scores

A while ago I read a very interesting post on Day of Woman and I was shocked that I never thought of this myself, since I love horror soundtracks. That post was BJ-C’s most beautiful horror movie scores. Considering that a whopping 48% of my iTunes library is nothing but horror scores, I was shocked when I realized that I never did a top 10 on them. I’ve been saying to a lot of people that horror movies have some of the best and possibly the most beautiful scores in film. So, I decided to compile a list of beautiful harmonies that were used in horror movies. Some of the scores I wanted to use were already mentioned so I decided to pick scores that people wouldn’t think were beautiful, but really they were.

9) Main Title – House on Haunted Hill – Don Davis

This is really the only true horror sounding one I have. I guess the reason why this is so beautiful is simply because of the organ music. It’s very operatic and mixed with the violins and string instruments give it a Phantom of the Opera feel. It’s very somber but at the same time very catch and I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to an old silent horror flick.

8) Mae’s Theme – Tangerine Dream – Near Dark

Already sounding like it comes straight out of the 80’s, this beautiful synth piece from Near Dark is very reminiscent of old-school sounding noir romance flicks. It’s simply hypnotic with its striking composition that evokes feelings of remorseful love and passion. It’s almost cosmic in a way; the way the score is so smooth and tranquil. I could just picture myself driving on a lonely highway in the dead of night listening to this.

7) Floating Minds – The Ring – Hans Zimmer

Only available on the stand-alone Ring soundtrack.

I love Hans Zimmer and he created some of the best scores I’ve ever listening to (Driving Miss Daisy being one of them) but this track on The Ring soundtrack is different. It’s unbelievably sad but at the same time it feels touching as though it brings you and your loved ones close. Perhaps it’s the heartrending string segments that are very reminiscent of Itzhak Perlman or the saddening harmonious piano, but regardless… it certainly doesn’t sound like something from a horror movie.

6) Main Theme – Krzysztof Komeda – Rosemary’s Baby

With its haunting and almost serenading vocalization, and its surreal acoustic guitar, this theme is probably one of the creepiest tracks in my library because its meant to be a beautiful composition but comes off as being uncomfortable yet sweet. I’m sure that’s its intentions but the fact still stands. It’s a twisted lullaby that suggests surrendering yourself to the dark beauties of nightmares. It foreshadows the pain and sympathy that lies ahead of the film.

5) Theme – Pino Donaggio – Carrie

Definitely sounding like it came out of the 70’s, this is probably one of my favorite Donaggio scores. It’s absolutely beautiful and calming as it reminds me of really happy summer days back when I was younger. The way the violins and horns just stir up the senses and bring a sense of soothing peace to my ears. It’s strange that such a pleasant-sounding score comes from one of the saddest horror movies out there and you can definitely hear the sadness in the track. It’s very subtle but if you listen to the horns, it previews sad things to come.

4) Particle Magazine – Howard Shore – The Fly

This one always stood out to me because it makes me feel like I am in a quiet coffee shop in the city, watching all the people walk in and go by. Like most of the others, it still has this overwhelming feeling of sadness and sympathy but it’s very tranquil and nerve calming. You could just imagine yourself watching everybody pass by and wondering what their lives may be or where they are going. That’s exactly the type of feeling that I get when I listen to this a feeling of quiet, seldom observation of the world around me.

3) Come To Me – Brad Fiedel – Fright Night

Next to The Terminator, this is one of Fiedel’s greatest scores and probably one his most underrated compositions. I’ve mentioned this track every time I bring up the sexuality that is presented in Fright Night and how the score is almost intoxicating as you listen to it. With its low bass synth, raw guitar rifts and its wailing saxophone, it makes for a sexually arousing yet powerful track. It’s another one of those types of songs that you could listen to while you’re driving down a lonely highway in the dead of night. How the track is composed is very genius because it starts off low and gradually builds up to a climax, then when it reaches its peak you can hear that guitar wailing as the track slowly comes down. It’s almost haunting as it lures you into a state of relaxation. It’s really quite magical.

2) Carol Anne’s Theme – Jerry Goldsmith – Poltergeist

In the same vain as the theme from Rosemary’s Baby, this wonderfully yet goosebumps-giving track always makes me smile for some reason. With what sounds like an all children choir and the use of violins the track reminds me of good old days of television when shows like Leave it Beaver and Father Knows Best were on. I think that’s the main intention was to give this track an overwhelming feeling of childhood innocents but at the same time make it seem a little awkward. Midway into the song, the choir stops so that the violin solo could play and it’s one of the most beautiful sounding things I’ve ever heard. On a personal level, it reminded me of the summer days of my childhood when I use to play with my friends. It certainly doesn’t sound like something that belongs in a horror movie.

1) Main Theme – Riz Ortolani – Cannibal Holocaust

I chose this song because it had the most amount of playbacks in all my horror soundtrack collections with a total of 253 playbacks. I haven’t heard the score in a while so I was a little shocked to find out that I listened to that track that many times and when I pressed play and was suddenly reminded of why I love it. It is probably the most beautiful compositions to ever be in a horror movie for several reasons. It’s such a happy sounding track and makes you want to get up and have a good time but there’s something different about it. Though it may evoke feelings of happiness and playfulness, it also gives me this feeling of remorse and total awe. It does a wonderful job of keeping the feelings happy but you can’t shake this feeling like something awful is going to happen. The score draws me into a false sense of security as I blindly follow thinking that everything will be alright, but at the same time I want to be shocked. If there has to be a reason for me to collect horror soundtracks, let this song speak for all the rest.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Chicago Fog

A few days ago it was really nice in Chicago with a nice warm temperature and cool breeze blowing in from the West. However, with the wind came a thick layer of fog that rendered it nearly impossible to see in front of you. The buildings were nearly impossible to see and they looked like giant monoliths that peered out from the haze. It sort of reminded me of The Fog and The Mist and it’s kind of creepy; it’s pretty creepy when you see a boat just disappear as it pierces through a wall of fog. So naturally I couldn’t resist taking a few picture and the only editing that I did was turning them black and white. I think it looks better that way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review - Scream 4 (2011)

Wes Craven has made a name for himself as master of the horror genre starting off with Last House on the Left, working his way through Nightmare on Elm Street and pasting People Under the Stairs but soon after the slasher sub-genre began to die down. That was until he wrote and directed the movie the revitalized the slasher but also, funnily enough, parodied it as well. That movie was Scream and it started a phenomenon of mediocre yet original slasher flicks like Urban Legends, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Valentine and the idea of a self-aware movie. Soon after came Scream 2, which parodied the slasher sequel and following that was Scream 3 of which remains a mystery to me. I don’t think Scream 4 could have come at a better time because not only does it poke fun at Wes Craven (meaning all the remakes he had a hand in giving the okay to) but it pokes fun at movies like Saw, which rely on over-the-top gratuitous bloodshed or horror remake. Maybe it’s the fact that I was under the influence of 6 cups of coffee and 12 packets of sugar but I really enjoyed Scream 4 because it is what it’s parodying and I know a lot of people will be let down by it and I understand that it is far from a perfect movie but let me explain why I enjoyed this movie. Also, to it put it in a better perspective I didn’t think it was brilliantly written like the first one but I enjoyed it in the same vain as I did with the My Bloody Valentine remake.

Scream 4 is about Sidney Campbell returning to Woodsboro to try and live a peaceful life after writing a book on her experience with the Ghostface killer. Gale has since retired from TV journalism and settled down with Sheriff Dewey. However, upon her return a copycat killer, disguised as Ghotface, begins slashing his way through the new generation of teens at Woodsboro High. However, Sidney isn’t the only one who is affected by these heinous events but also her cousin and her Aunt who have lived with the idea that she is the “angel of death.” With a new killer in town, following modern day slasher rules, Sidney, Gale and Dewey must find the iller before he or she kills off the entire Campbell family. Scream 4 opens up perfectly because it sets the tone for how ridiculous the film will be and how absurd it can get. If we look at the general state of horror movies today, they incorporate over-the-top kills, hammy acting and a lot of really bad plot twists and I think Scream 4 was sort of how I, and probably others, felt about the Saw franchise. It also builds it’s plot on all the types of remakes that have been made and there is a rather funny scene where the killer asks Hayden Panettiere about remakes in she begins to name off every single one of them. It really put the whole remake craze into perspective.

I don’t’ want say who the killer is but I might give away a few spoilers in this paragraph but I’ll try to avoid doing so. See, the way I see it the killer represents the new generation of horror movies and horror fans trying to desperately to improve on the original or in some cases one-up the original. Since the killer is trying to reinvent the Woodsboro murders to have a different outcome, he or she sees Sidney as the ‘original’ victim and therefore she must be killed. If we look at this in terms of the Halloween remake, Rob Zombie wanted to reinvent or reimage Michael Meyers but in the process he ended up ruining what the original stood for in horror. There are several old-school allusions of old school horror trying to pair up with modern day horror and failing and I am making reference to Gale going “rogue” in her investigation and teaming up with the Woodsboro High film club. There is Sidney’s cousin trying to get along with her despite the fact that she is the primary target of the killer, Dewey being sexually tempted by a younger female deputy and of course the ending. They are all based on the idea of old meets young and I think it’s funny that none of these relationships work out as if it’s Craven’s commentary on how the Nightmare on Elm Street remake could never fair with its remake. Hell, it’s almost like Craven is mocking himself as Mr. Hollywood Horror.

I think Scream 4 has the right to be bad and what I mean by that is throughout the entire film there are ridiculous performances, one-liners here and there, out of place but still funny humor and exaggerated events. Why should it be exactly that? Because that’s what it’s parodying. Take the original Scream for an example; Sidney says, when the killer first calls her, that the females in horror movies are idiots because they run upstairs instead of running out the front door. So, what does she do when the killer attacks her? She runs up the front door. Not only does she challenge the cliché but also she ends up reinforcing it later on. The same thing goes for this movie; it challenges the ridiculousness of horror movies but ends up being ridiculous in the process. I think that’s what Scream’s niche is. I personally think it did a great job of doing this.

I do, however, want to make this clear that I don’t think Scream 4 is as good as Scream or Scream 2 nor do I think that it’s a perfect movie because it’s not. With that said, I would rank this one above 3 because I hated 3. Sure there are flaws in the movie and I think the biggest one that it suffered from was that the story seemed more focused on Gale trying to regain her fame back and Sidney’s cousin trying to cope with the killings. I think it should have focused on Sidney’s cousin and Sidney herself with Gale as a side story. The film touches on the notion that Dewey is being seduced by a younger police deputy but quickly abandons this story midway into the film. For a movie that states that the kills have to be more theatrical and over-the-top, they really weren’t. Sure the killer stabs the victims several times and even goes as far as to thrash them around the house but the 1st movie had Drew Barrymore hanging from a tree with her intestines spilled out. The only theatrical kill that was exaggerated was having a body thrown down a 5-story parking lot. Sure there is a very limited amount you could do with a knife but the bodies should have at least been strung up or something.

As I have said already, Wes Craven has made a name for himself as a master of horror but he has since become very studio oriented and made a lot of crap after Scream (with the exception of Red Eye). Though Scream 4 didn’t redeem him, it does show that he is aware of how horror fans are towards remakes and reboots. I think that Craven really tarnished himself with movies like Cursed or My Soul To Take and I think that Scream 4 will be his last entertaining movie but he still loves horror even if his movies don’t reflect that. I won’t go into the details because it’s probably one of the best scenes in the entire film as well as recent horror history but I will say this: he said what all us old school horror fans have been saying for a long time now, you just don’t fuck with the original.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

After Midnight and The Batman

Now that I am discussing After Midnight, while watching it I couldn’t shake this feeling like I knew the teacher (Professor Edward Derek) in the movie. Not personally, obviously, but like I’ve seen his character before in some other movie or novel and sure enough I was right. I saw him first in a comic book and later in a movie that was based off of the comic book he was in and yes I’m talking about Batman. But what Batman comic and movie could it be? Strangely enough it was from issue #3 of World’s Finest Comic and later Batman Begins. Still don’t know what character I’m talking about? I’ll give you a big hint. Think scarecrows. Yes, Prof. Edward Derek is probably the first live movie incarnation of The Scarecrow villain from the Batman comics. How are these two seemingly unrelated characters the same, well below is a short list that I have comprised to show the similarities of the two. Not only do they look the same but their background and personalities are as well.

- They are both professors of psychology at a university.

- The psychology class they teach has to do with fear.

- They both have teaching techniques that are radical and unappreciated by their colleagues leading them to be ostracized in the teaching field.

- They both end up getting in a lot of trouble with the university for firing a gun in the classroom.

- They both love scaring people, particularly their students.

- They both have a very disturbing yet true theory on why fear is different from all other emotions.

- They both are very emotionally erratic and unstable.

- They both are on the borderline of being insane.

- They both have killed somebody.

- Physically they are both not very imposing men.

- They both love how the mind can be manipulated through fear.

- They both have very calm, contemplative, yet foreboding voices.

- They both have long brown hair and blues eyes.

Sure, I’m leaving out the fact that one dresses like a scarecrow and uses hallucinogens to commit crime while the other one just scares kids with stories but this is more of an examination of each characters personality. Strictly speaking, they are both essentially the same character only except Derek is more like Crane before he decided to dawn the scarecrow outfit. It’s uncanny on how the two are closely similar.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An Anthology of Cheese

I love horror anthology movies but it’s so rare to find a good one. Aside from the well-known Creepshow, there are very few ones that are actually entertaining for a good reason. Aside from Creepshow the only anthologies that I know were good are Trilogy of Terror 1 and 2 and maybe Cat’s Eye. That is unless I consider After Midnight. This movie is an anthology that is set around a group of college students who come to their teacher’s house for extra credit. He isn’t a murderer but he is definitely obsessed with fear and making people afraid, so naturally the extra credit is for all the students to tell each other scary stories but not just any type of scary story. These stories have to be real horror, meaning that they are horrifying stories that can happen because it’s real. I love these types of stories because of that reason that they can happen to anybody. So lets break the stories down and see if we can isolate the problem as to why they didn’t seem to horrify me.

I should mention that there are major spoiler alerts for anybody who wants to watch this movie.

The first story is about a young couple whose car breaks down next to a creepy mansion. Stranded and out of gas, they decide to ask the people of the house if they could assist them but they soon abandon the idea of asking the people and decide to break into the house and look around. The young woman soon disappears and the man, frightened about the creepiness of the mansion, looks frantically around for her. Then, out of nowhere he sees a mysterious deformed man and he believes the he’s killed his wife so he decides to club him with a bat. Too bad the entire thing was a game that his wife played on him as a way to make his birthday seem memorable. Personally, the reason why it didn’t work for me is because the perspective of the film (meaning that the film follows the man throughout the entire story) breaks from his ‘point of view’ to show us his wife and friends getting the birthday cake ready. I think it would have been more of a shock if we stayed on him up until he takes the axe to his wife’s head and then we see it was all a birthday. Doing this would not only deliver a punch, but it would really add to the creepiness. The believability of this happen is slim but we’ve all ventured into scary places to look around so I can relate to that.

The next story follows a group of girls looking for a wild night or at least a really crazy part to attend, but their curiosity leads them to an old warehouse where two of the girls get held hostage by a sexually assaulting bum. One of the girls who aren’t held hostage distracts the bum while another ends up killing him or knocking his lights out so the group escapes. Unfortunately, they end up having three viciously rabid dogs chase after them all through the underbelly of the city. Now, having dogs chase you, especially rabid dogs, is pretty frightening and coming from experience… it’s even scarier when you’re all alone in the woods. Here, not only do these girls make stupid decisions but they also end up killing dogs by blowing them up. To be fair, the dogs didn’t really seem threatening but rather misunderstood as though they wanted a hug. I think it would have been scarier if the stuck with the crazed bum scenario because there are a lot of them out there and considering that I live in the city, it’s a frightening situation when a crazy or sexually assaulting bum attacks and kidnaps you.

In the third and final story, things get a little creepier. In fact, I actually liked this one a lot because of how it handled its story; driving away from the cliché and doing something a little different. The story follows a young woman who works the overnight shift at an apartments phone answering service but when she gets calls from a mysterious yet unstable man she begins to get worried. As things progress she finds out that this man has been stalking somebody who lives in the apartment and killed her, so now the man starts to stalk the young telephone operator from inside the building. I guess I found it creepy because the stalker seemed real; not only do we see his face but the film establishes that he looks normal and doesn’t have an otherworldly appearance. He doesn’t heavily breath into the phone, he doesn’t scream or toy with his victim. He antagonizes her with where he is in the building. The only problem is, the young woman and her boss are both idiots and that overshadows a lot of the creepiness. As for believability, the stalker seemed more grounded to reality then most stalker movies since he acted and talked like a normal person and I think that’s what it was trying to go for.

When you look at the whole picture, I think I might be a little too critical on this movie since it was probably made for fun and it is 80’s cheese but it does raise the question: why aren’t there any horror anthologies that have stories based in reality. I think it would be a great idea to test out and After Midnight is the first step. It’s the prototype for a great experiment in horror and realism. I can only hope that one day it will be made but for now I guess I have to stick with After Midnight and excuse the awful decision making the characters make.

Edit: Sorry for the big images. Blogger won't rescale them no matter what size I select.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Absolute Power of Film

“Film is like magic; they’re like our hands… they’re a weapon.”

When I first saw Cigarette Burns I was greatly disappointed because it didn’t feel like a John Carpenter movie. To me it felt like somebody who wanted to be Carpenter bud didn’t have sense of how to direct. I thought the movie was lacking, the acting was poor and direction seemed rushed so obviously I thought this wasn’t Carpenters greatest but it couldn’t be worse than Ghosts of Mars. To my surprise, it seemed like most people that I talked to or commented on loved the episode saying that it was the best one out of the entire series so I thought I was missing something. Well, it turns out that I was but that something didn’t improve the aforementioned complains but rather gave me an understanding of what Carpenter wanted to accomplish with this episode. With that said, after the re-watch I still think the acting is poor and it lacked that ominous atmosphere that I grew to love about John Carpenter movies. I can look past the fact that he may have been under time constraints. But I want to expand on what I took from the episode.

While looking into the episode before watching it many people have stated that Carpenter was exploring the idea of connecting art with madness, much like what he was doing when he directed In The Mouth of Madness. Some stated that he was discussing the breakdown of civilized people because of art or the idea that art is the expression and liberation of supernatural entities by the artist. They’re all great ideas that I am sure Carpenter incorporated but what I saw was John’s commentary on how film can be used as a weapon and how powerful film can be when it’s given into the wrong hands. I see Cigarette Burns as Carpenter’s Inglourious Basterds. Many have stated that Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s way of saying that film can be used as a tool and a weapon but at the same time it could change history. This idea of film isn’t relatively new because a lot of directors feel this way but Carpenter decided to put a horror spin to it.

There are a few quotes that are littered throughout the film that make me believe that Carpenter is touching base on film as a weapon, and in some instances he is blatantly saying it. One quote always stuck with me even before I began watching the film and it was, “Film in the right hands is a weapon” and I believe this to be true. If we look at history, film has been used as a tool to brainwash the general public, it can provide convincing yet falsifying facts to persuade people into believing a lie, in fact the film even states, “The plate of the splicing table can be used to tell a lie or to tell the truth. It all depends whose hands it’s in.” It’s a very compelling argument and I won’t go into extreme detail on specific examples of ‘film weaponry’ but you can find the bulk of them during the World War II era and the 1950s. Film was used a propaganda tool and it wasn’t as obvious as some of the social guidance films but it could also be seen in films distributed by Hollywood. Directors use film to get their message across and we as the audiences are subconsciously affected by it.

In the case of Cigarette Burns, it seems like La Fin Absolue du Monde was such a powerful film that it makes anybody who watches it brutally attack each other or themselves. In its English translation the title means The Absolute End of the World. By using this translation I think I see a connection between the title and the reaction people have upon viewing the film; perhaps whatever is in the film makes the viewer subconsciously aware of our true violent intentions. In this case the end of the world may not be the total destruction of the world but rather the destruction of civilized humans because of some dispute or incident. Maybe the film suggests that it is only a matter of time before we begin killing ourselves or it reveals our deepest, darkest fears and that it pushes the audience to react. We’ll never really know because Carpenter chooses to not show the film in its entirety, and I think that was a good choice on his part.

There is a quote in the film that was said by a film critic that really puts the idea of using film as propaganda on the stand. He states, “We trust filmmakers. We sit in the dark, daring them to affect us, secured in the nous that they won’t go too far.” It’s a very interesting quote because it’s very true. When we see a film that interests us we pay to see it, sit in the theater in hopes that the filmmaker will either impress us or tell us something. It’s a lot of faith that we have in the filmmaker to show us something that won’t push us over the edge. How many times have you saw a film that was so revolting, so horrifying or so hard-hitting that you couldn’t believe what you saw? This bond, the trust between the audience and the filmmaker, is very psychologically based and I can say that I have experienced this bond. I never acted differently or changed personally but I walked out of the theater in absolute awe, shock, terror and assessment… it was The Mist. I left my trust in the hands of the filmmaker that everything will be fine but he broke that trust violently and unmercifully.

All in all I guess what I am saying is that Cigarette Burns may be about the connection between madness and art or the breakdown of civilized people but I think that Carpenter explores the idea that film is a tool and that as a tool it can be used as a weapon. He explores the idea that there is a connection between the audience and the film and the bonding between the people involved with the production and the film itself. “We were part of the film; bound to the negative like soul to flesh.” In this case, I believe that Carpenter is correct. Film is a very powerful tool and that it can hold great power over the people who view it. As many people have said, the film industry is (possibly) the greatest secret weapon that ever existed and I for one thoroughly believe that it is a weapon of destruction.