Crash Discussions: THE FUTURE OF HORROR

PodcastimageThe Last Knock explores the genre of horror and where the hell it might be headed. By keeping our heads on backwards, and looking at what the giants of horror have brought us, from Carpenter to Craven, and Cronenberg to Romero, we take a look at what sub-genres and storytelling premises may be on the rise…

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Crash Discussions: THE LORDS OF SALEM

PodcastimageRob Zombie’s THE LORD’S OF SALEM is analyzed, stripped bare, and left to fester in your mind as if the spawn of the Prince of Darkness did so himself. This supernatural exploration of the “Anti-Virgin Mother” will have you wishing the “Weird Sisters” had never materialized on your screen. Don’t know what the Hell we’re talking about? Then listen in…
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Crash Reports: The Best Spanish Horror Films

The great nation on the Iberian peninsula has brought many wonderful, surreal, and orfanato_ver12suspense-filled horrors. If you love quality stories, what follows is the very best of the last fifty Spanish horror films I’ve had the pleasure of indulging.

Granted, all writers and directors are different, but the cinematography of Spanish cinema is consistently wonderful: great color, shadow, and composition. Even if a particular film from Spain fails to capture my imagination, the photography still resonates. Regardless, the acting is usually passionate, and although this may be something we expect from Spanish culture, the characters created by the screenwriters typically have much depth – so what actor wouldn’t want to bring them to life?

Once again, like most European horror cinema, original stories are brought to the forefront, while production companies in Los Angeles wallow in remakes to save money. However, European filmmakers, for the most part, revere cinema as an art form and focus little on return of investment – the plague that haunts Hollywood. In the end, even if a quality Spanish (or European in general) horror fails to clean up at the box office, it will accrue accolades and money over time, while many American horrors fall by the wayside.

This top ten includes a horror from Spanish television, and two short films of intense proportions. I hope you enjoy the selections.

 

The Orphanage (Spain, 2005) – 5 stars

JA Bayon’s masterpiece is one exceptional dramatic horror. Starring the glorious Belén Rueda, she brings Sergio G. Sánchez’s tale of a mother in search of her missing son to life. The atmosphere is palpable, and the film heralds one of the most haunting scenes in cinematic history. If you love quality horrors, this is the one to watch. Hell, it even made me cry.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

 

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999) – 4.5 stars

This severely under-appreciated Roman Polanski film is a horrific mystery of demonic proportions. Starring Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, and Emmanuel Saugnier, this bibliophile based story is one of my go-to favorites. With Wojciech Kolar’s spellbinding score and a phenomenal atmosphere, the movie never ceases to satisfy the curious.

 

The Uninvited Guest            (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars

Guillem Morales’ foray into creepiness unnerves the soul like few films do. After all, if you let someone into your home and they simply vanish, what would you do? Could they shadow your every move without you even knowing? And this is why I like squeaky floors and doors. If you love suspense, this is for you.

 

Aftermath (Spain, 1994) – 4.5 stars

This short film (30 minutes) by Nacho Cerdá is a disturbing venture when a morgue attendant violates and slaughters a corpse. Yes, this is one for gorehounds who should leave the movie more than satiated. Definitely not for the squeamish.

 

The Devil’s Backbone (Spain, 2004) – 4 stars

Guillermo del Toro loves to revisit themes associated with the Spanish Civil War, and this ghostly tale resonates on a grand scale. An unexploded bomb ticks the time away in the courtyard of the isolated orphanage, and young Carlos ruminates over a ghost’s prediction. Enjoy the suspense.

 

Fausto 5.0 (Spain, 2001) – 4 stars

This bizarre and surreal tale certainly leaves one on edge. In Fernando León de Aranoa’s scintillating story, a doctor on his way to a convention finds himself confronted by a man who claims the doctor removed his stomach eight years ago – and he promises to make all the doctor’s wishes come true. Enjoy the ride.

 

The Baby’s Room (Spain, 2006) – 4 stars

If you know the scientific experiment called “Schrodinger’s Cat” then you should love this intriguing tale that aired on Spanish television. Intelligent and gripping, enjoy the nightmare of a father searching for someone who may be out to harm his child – when he may just need to look in the mirror…

 

The Skin I Live In (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars

Antonio Banderas and the stunning Elena Anaya team-up in Pedro Almodóvar’s riveting story of a young woman held captive in a doctor’s home – think the bird in the golden cage. Interestingly, the lights are bright, but the tale is gripping and psychologically disconcerting. An extremely entertaining thriller.

 

Sleep Tight (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars

The phenomenal Luis Tosar delivers on a grand scale as a man on a personal mission to push everyone else’s emotional buttons to leave them morally destitute. With elements of THE UNINVITED GUEST, director Jaume Balagueró brings Alberto Marini’s script to life with enough suspense for three films. In addition, Pablo Rosso’s cinematography, and Lucas Vidal’s score, adds that extra edge of intensity.

 

Genesis (Spain, 1994) – 4 stars

Nacho Cerdá blows our minds with another short that captivates. Think “Pygmalion” – but this time, things go really wrong. Don’t miss this fantastic nightmare.

 

Other great Spanish horrors: Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (Spain, 2004), Horror Express (UK/Spain, 1972), Hipnos (Spain, 2004), The Abandoned (Spain/UK/Bulgaria, 2007), Shiver (Spain, 2008), [Rec] (Spain, 2003), and Exorcismus (Spain, 2010).

Over-rated or simply dreadful Spanish films: Who Can Kill A Child (Spain, 1970 – I can if they’re trying to murder me), Slugs (Spain/USA, 1988 – though it’s a fun ride!), Ghost Son (Italy/South Africa/Spain/UK, 2007), Giallo (USA/UK/Spain/Italy, 2009), [REC]3 Genesis (Spain, 2012), and Mama (Canada/Spain, 2013).

Crash Discussions: MACABRE MUSICALS

PodcastimageBilly and Jonny had to do it: dive into the orchestra pit to slam dance among horror musical carnage. We take a look at SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET and POULTRYGEIST, to REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA and suck, to THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW of course. Bring your best blood-stained tuxedo and join us!
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Crash Discussions: Hillbilly Horror

PodcastimageBucolic bullies and redneck ruffians have been the heart of hicksploitation cinema since 2000 MANIACS. Whether from the United States, or even Pakistan, backwoods horror hates visitors and takes no prisoners.

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Crash Discussions: Filmmaker David Paul Baker

The filmmaker who never sleeps, David Paul Baker, revisits THE LAST KNOCK to talk about his horror SCREEN and his CRIME LORD web series. He’ll not only tell about how to make a movie through sheer force of will, but how to handle a stuntman who begs to be put on fire for $20.

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Crash Analysis Support Team: Randy Brzoska’s “Kid in Play” (Part IV)

Problems with Children in Horror Movies

            Early in the 2011 movie Citadel there is a scene that pulls me out of the narrative without fail every time I see it. It stops me cold.

The protagonist, a young widowed father named Tommy, is home alone one www.indiewireevening with his infant daughter. He’s been having a hard time. And he’s been seeing some things that, for reasons I won’t explain here, can best be described as disturbing.

So he is alone with his daughter. He sees a hypodermic needle on the floor. Puts the child down to inspect. The lights go out. He LEAVES HIS DAUGHTER ON THE FLOOR in the dark with the needle while he goes to investigate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddvTujPPKqI

            I imagine the intended effect here was to build up some tension, create a little suspense. But instead of sitting on the edge of my seat, I’m slapping my forehead thinking: “For the love of god, get your fucking kid!”

The problem is that the first instinct for most parents in this sort of situation is to pick up their infants and keep them close in order to protect them. No parent worth their salt would let their child crawl around crying in the dark while potential danger lurked around the corner. And then there’s the goddamn needle! Don’t get me started about the fucking needle. The scene doesn’t work the way it’s intended because the character doesn’t behave the way a parent behaves. The verisimilitude is shattered. And in a movie like this—like most horror movies–that’s scene-death.

What I conclude is that either the writer didn’t really know or think about how parents react in emergencies or did know and forewent the natural action for the sake of pumping a few extra chills in the movie. I bring it up because—though we’ve touched on many of the positives of using child characters in horror movies–it’s illustrative of the problems that can arise should you choose to do so. [i]

Before we proceed, let’s articulate the assumptions from which we’ll be working. First, consider that horror movies, more so than many genres, rely on an adherence to anthropocentric realism. For good reason. We can see why if we break it down thusly:

  1. Horror movies are typically depictions of human interactions with unknown and or/nihilistic forces or entities.
  2. These depictions are dramatizations of real human fears (both universal and contextual) and existential crises.
  3. In order to appropriately heighten and dramatize these fears, artists embody them in forms that are grotesque, fantastic, supernatural, monstrous, and inhuman.
  4. The viewer understands these forms as both ‘real’ (in terms of the narrative) and unreal[ii] (not actual; a fiction, though perhaps possible). The forms operate at both a literal (monster/antagonist) and figurative (metaphorical/symbolic) level.
  5. In order to accept these forms as ‘narratively real’ and feel fear and dread, the viewer must relate to a sympathetic anthropocentric entity within that narrative. Namely, human characters behaving acceptably human within the context of the world presented by the book or film.[iii] These entities act and react in ways the viewer might.
  6. A film that does not have sympathetic human characters that behave consistently will fail to present its forms as ‘narratively real’ and will fail to elicit fear and dread.

In short: no nod to anthropocentric realism, no horror. Given the sheer amount of fantastic crap going on in the typical horror movie (killers that don’t die, the dead rising, alien invasions, ghosts, monsters, etc…) a well-established human point-of-view is required or the viewer is going to be confused, disgusted, bored, or interested but not terrified. Any way you look at it, that’s failure for a horror movie.

So for a movie like Citadel, which couches its horror in the gritty and realistic world of present day working-class Ireland and relies on this realism to suck the viewer into its world, deviations from normal behavior are magnified and getting them right becomes critical. If a writer manipulates character, the viewer in turn becomes aware that they are manipulated. The writer risks pulling the viewer out of narrative they’ve so painstakingly constructed.

So this is where kids get tricky. Make the wrong decision with a kid in a horror movie, goodbye horror. Here are the most frequent ways this happens:

  1. A.    The writer doesn’t understand children; children or parents behave unrealistically (by accident). Offenders: Mikey, Home Movie.
  2. B.    Predictability. If there is a child protagonist, chances are they’re going to live. Offenders: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, War of the Worlds (2005).
  3. C.   Cliches. The prescient kid-seer; the staring creepy kid; kids who draw creepy things; kids who say creepy things. Offenders: Hide and Seek, Sinister, Dark Touch
  4. D.   Bad Acting. Need I say more? Offenders: The Shining, Aliens, The Purge

Now, these won’t necessarily sink your movie all by themselves. Indeed, if the rest of the film is solid they can be overcome. For example, every time little Danny Torrance comes on the screen in The Shining I cringe. But I still love the movie overall. However, let’s face facts here: most movies aren’t The Shining.

 



[i] By ‘human’ we may include beings that were once human and/or share human values. For example, Abigail Breslin’s character in 2012’s HAUNTER or even the titular robot from WALL-E (2008), who stands for human values lost in that film’s universe.

[ii] Yes, even ‘realistic’ horror as depicted in films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Men Behind the Sun are at some level ‘not believable’ despite the fact that what they depict either has really happened or is possible. Their function is to show the real-but-unbelievable and ask the viewer: “How is it that this could be true?”

[iii] For example, Henry Spencer in ERASERHEAD (1977) behaves oddly but consistently in David Lynch’s bizarre universe and his everyday actions, annoyances, and desires are recognizably human.

(Photo from Blogs.Indiewire.)