Friday, August 29, 2008
Yes, well, okay, there are not-untalented people working on these films (and it's Wolf Creek you're thinking of). But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the film that issued in the era -- or at least legitimized the idea of -- horror as "slasher film", horror as gorefest, and little more. Sure, you can trace slasher films back further, even to Psycho. Psycho is the first major film to use a serial killer, as we understand the term today, as its villain, and as the source of its horror (although the twist aspect of the story doesn't make that clear until the end). And possibly Black Christmas has a claim as the father of this horror subgenre almost as great as Chainsaw Massacre. Both films have what can now be considered classic slasher plots. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a group of college kids get lost, and are eaten. In Black Christmas, a madman is loose in a sorority house. Both films came out the same year, and both films are far less violent than their
The point of this very long post, and those that will follow, isn't to decry violence, even graphic violence, in horror films. If you're making a movie about flesh-eating zombies, you're gonna have to break a few eggs. I get that. But it's nice for these things to have some sort of point, isn't it? I mean, what was the purpose of the scene I just described? Because it wasn't to frighten the audience, I assure you. To shock them, maybe. To startle them. To gross them out. And then what? To make them laugh? Even if not that last one -- though I have my suspicions -- I know that the scene acheived the goal which was without a doubt at the top of the director's list, and that was to give horror fans what they'd come to demand from the genre by that time: tits and blood. This was their way of building off of the Hooper/Henkel film, and we've been living with it ever since.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
- Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Monday, August 25, 2008
The Tall T was based on an Elmore Leonard short story, but there's a Leonard feel to all of these films. Leonard at his best lets his characters reveal the subtleties of their personalities and motivations through their conversation. His villains are stupid, or they're smart, depending on what kind of person they are. They're doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or they're complete human trash. And the hero may know that the man he's facing down isn't an evil person, but he has to be stopped all the same. It's the same with Boetticher's heroes and villains. With the exception of Scott (and he may not even be an exception; I've only seen three of these so far), you can't assume too much about any of these guys. It all depends on what you learn about them as the film progresses.
And why aren't these films out in a handsome DVD box-set, like the one Val Lewton's horror films got some years back? They're crying out for it. Somebody make it happen. Anyway, my next Boetticher film (thank you, DVR and Turner Classic Movies) will be The Man from the Alamo, starring Glenn Ford this time, not Randolph Scott. I can't wait.
Well, let me do that now. Kennedy's scripts are marvelous. There's an individuality to all the of characters, but Kennedy never once relies on cheap phrases or colloquialisms to distinguish them. You don't identify James Coburn's Whit or Pernell Roberts's Boone because one always says "Well ain't that a kick in the pants!" and the other one doesn't. You identify them because they sound like themselves (and also because one is played by James Coburn and is named "Whit", while the other is played by Pernell Roberts and is named "Boone". Also, their shirts are different colors). I know, that sounds perilously close to mystical artsy horseshit, but that's because this particular skill is both rare and difficult to describe (for me it is, anyway).
Two of my favorite exchanges (lightly paraphrased in both cases):
BOONE: I got a little place up in the mountains. It ain't m--
WHIT: You got a place?
BOONE: It ain't much, but...
And, okay, I can't remember exactly what Boone says after that, but I love that interruption from Whit. I don't really know if that was Kennedy, or Boetticher, or the actors, but it gave me that shiver of recognition, that realization that I'm hearing these guys talk the way actual people talk to each other.
MRS LANE: You don't seem like the kind of man who would hunt down another man for money.
BRIGADE: I am.
...is almost certainly all Kennedy, and it speaks for itself.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Yakuza Scroll: Shoot Quickly or Die Fast
In 1945 a America attack Japan with new scientific bomb called “nuclear bomb”. No one survives. The survivors rebuilt there cities, and Japan now is a succeed. Is there many strong buildings? Yes! Is there many success business? Yes. Is there many nice dance house? Yes. Is there many strong honorable? Yes!
But maybe a America bomb realize a demon spirit? Maybe! His name is Moromoto Shinji the Snake Zone, and waits under Succeed Japan…!
Today you are Steve G., of Kyoto Police Force (KPF) and you are a Kyoto Police Office. You work to destroy to incredible Yakuza, who bring nightmare world to today. Your gun is a 15 inch Super Steel Bullet Range with Laser Mounted Scope Device. You are a accurate shoot from one hundred yards! You work hard and live alone and wonder sometimes a “Why is my world so full of this night mares!?” You work hard to bring down Yakuza Gangster Sarukanji and his gang of murderous called Blossom strike.! For to help you, you are is a partner named Keiko of Kyoto Police Force (KPF) Lesbian Crime Squid.
And what is this Yakuza Scroll? It is your job to find out how or Sarukanji will realize Moromoto Shinji for ultimate super night mares!
To shoot, press AABBCA button
For supplement, press AABBCA and CDBBA button
For to dance, press UP key.
For to not dance, DON'T PRESS!
If you run, use controller keys.
For to pick up device, enjoy BBDA buttons TWICE
For to drop device, enjoy buttons differently.
Okay fine, Steve G.! The timing for your adventures is arrived. And don't forget this: enjoy your time, for shoot quickly…or die fast!
Friday, August 22, 2008
Anyone who's seen Theater of Blood knows how ridiculous its plot is: an actor named Edward Lionheart is killing all the critics who ever gave him a bad review, and his methods for murder are taken from Shakespeare's plays. But those who've seen it should also know what a strange and compelling movie it is. While most horror movies use as their unstated theme our fear of mortality, and of the unknown in general, this film, which is occasionally genuinely disturbing, actually has the balls to be a horror film about acting and criticism.
Vincent Price plays Lionheart. I think Price's greatest performance is in Witchfinder General, but this might be just beneath that one. He's creepy, deranged, and in one brilliant scene, he's absolutely heartbreaking. The scene is a flashback to the moment where the seed of his plan to kill these critics was planted. The moment takes place following the critics' annual award ceremony, at which Lionheart was expecting to win their Actor of the Year award. He didn't, and is devastated. The critics, meanwhile all meet up at a private party, which Lionheart later crashes.
There, Lionheart rages at the critics for ruining his reputation, insulting him, and giving their award "to a twitching, mumbling boy, who can barely grunt his way through an incomprehensible performance!" Devlin, the lead critic, has stated earlier in the film that he gave Lionheart all those scathing reviews to help pull the actor into the present, because Lionheart would only do Shakespeare and refused to modernize his style. So suddenly we've found ourselves watching a movie that's about classical stage actors being unceremoniously pushed aside by the new wave of Method actors? Apparently!
Regardless, in this party scene, even after Lionheart has angrily and publicly spilled out his anguish, the critics continue to laugh at him. After stumbling out onto their balcony, clutching the award he believes should be his, he begins reciting Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy. The camera is still in the room with the critics, looking past them, through the window at Lionheart, who seems genuinely shocked that in his moment of despair these people are still mocking him.
There seems to be genuine rage in this film, directed at the critical profession. The idea that a single review can ruin careers and trash reputations might be overstated (and as presented in a movie like this, it would kind of have to be), but at the very least the standard critic's rebuke that their savage comments are meant constructively and shouldn't be seen as hurtful is now and always has been laughable. I like reading a good negative review, one that wittily shreds a particularly lousy film, but, as William Goldman always says, nobody sets out to make a bad movie, and to see people insulted for their efforts...I mean, we all have our limits, and I don't spend my nights wondering if Oliver Stone is still smarting over that whole U-Turn thing, or hoping that Ashton Kutcher will someday learn to not take these things to heart. No, I'm spending my Friday night writing about a 35 year-old Vincent Price movie for an audience of eight, tops. But in the broader view I do realize that years of hard work is often cruelly dismissed in a few paragraphs. Hickox and Greville-Bell know that, and you can bet your ass that Vincent Price knew it, too.
But, really, the film backs off from all that a little bit. As nasty as the film can be (that beheading scene! Holy Jesus!), it does lose its nerve a little bit towards the end (although that weird final exchange and glance between Milo O'Shea and Ian Hendry is worth thinking about), around the same time that the murders become simply too dumb to be effective either as horror or comedy. However, I don't care, because, boy, what an odd movie, a pissed-off horror film that has a sense of humor about itself. But only up to a point.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
"I went up to my room, and crept to bed, and laid my doll's cheek against mine wet with tears, and holding that solitary friend upon my bosom, cried myself to sleep. Imperfect as my understanding of my sorrow was, I knew that I had brought no joy at any time to anybody's heart and that I was to no one upon earth what Dolly was to me."
I mean, for Christ's sake, Dickens. Tear my heart out, why don't you?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
In Crime and Punishment, however, the violence offers no such catharsis, no matter how grubby and shameful. Raskalnikov is completely lost, even further adrift than Travis Bickle. Bickle, in his breakdown, was nevertheless able to focus his rage on one goal: saving Iris. The best Raskalnikov can do is crack open an old women's head so that he can take her money and divvy it out, Robin Hood-style. And this last, "altruistic" element of his plan becomes nebulous and evaporates almost immediately.
So maybe Raskalnikov and Bickle aren't so much alike. But they're both completely alone, partly by choice, and partly because they don't know how to not be alone. And they both see the world crumbling around them, and both can only imagine one way to make things right. One picks up an axe, the other picks up agun.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Hello. My name is Bill R. Don't worry, despite the mysteriousness of that single "R", I'm not going to write post after post about how the Bilderberg Group is pulling everyone's strings. No, this is going to be one of those rare blogs that focuses on things like movies and books. These are, I'm sorry to say, my two primary interests in life, but within these forms my tastes are quite eclectic, so expect to read about everything from Robert Bresson and Jean-Pierre Melville to Larry Cohen and John Carpenter; Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Kazuo Ishiguro to Donald E. Westlake and Thomas Ligotti.
A few words about the look and name of this blog before I call it a night. The title of the blog, The Kind of Face You Hate, comes from the film Blast of Silence. The alarming face you see beside the title is Dr. Mabuse himself, from Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. While my interests are, I think, as eclectic as I previously indicated, the darkness of both films, and particularly the deep pulp strangeness of Dr. Mabuse, should give you an idea of where my particular interests lay. So if you're especially fond of genres like Horror and Crime, you can expect both (and others) to be covered regularly.
The most important thing about that banner at the top, though, is that it was designed by my great good friend Jonathan Lapper, the man behind the very fine blog Cinema Styles. Without his encouragement and technical assistance, I probably wouldn't have started this blog. Well, not today, anyway. So thanks again, Jonathan.
PS - Content that includes stuff worth reading will hopefully be coming soon!