Crash Reports: Avoid the Tropes! What I’ve Learned After 1,800 Horror Movies

Horror movie number 1,800 turned out to be Jesus Franco’s godawful COUNT t9xpDRACULA (Spain/West Germany/Italy/Liechtenstein, 1970), starring Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Apparently, Lee didn’t want to play Dracula again, but Franco convinced him that the story would remain true to Stoker’s classic. It didn’t – not by a long shot. Furthermore, the sets were as barren as any no-budget horror with the most pathetic day-for-night footage I’ve seen. Worst still, why have Kinski play Renfield and not even give him one speaking line? Renfield could have been cut right out of the picture. I understand some people adore Franco, but after watching several of his cheap and poorly edited third-rate movies, I really don’t understand the love and admiration.

Granted, over the last 100 films I have seen some great, innovative, and beautifully executed horrors. For instance: ANTIVIRAL (Canada, 2012), THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEE (Canada, 2012), THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012), and RESOLUTION (2012). However, the bulk have been expectedly disappointing due to the same tropes and clichés filmmakers feel the ludicrous need to bestow upon the audience at every turn. Here are the ten things I hate the most in horror that leaves me cursing at the screen, rolling my eyes, and fast forwarding:

 

Fight or Flight or Scream

When we’re freaked out, we fight, flee, or stand still and take the ax to the head. But what I hate the most is the pathetic “fight response”. Now, that sounds crazy because we should cheer when our Final Girl or hero stands up in the face of a monster. Yet, when this fighter simply knocks the antagonist to the ground before running away, or leaves them with a knife in the belly, I become hostile. FINISH THE BASTARD OFF. Out of those 1,800 horrors, this must have occurred at least 1,600 times. And you know I’m not exaggerating. (David Carradine, when shooting his nemesis in Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, had the smarmy presence of mind to say, “He does not die easily,” then kept on shooting.)

 

Grab that Weapon!

This ties in with the aforementioned fight element. What moron, knowing his or her life is on the line, would strike back against their antagonist, yet leave behind the knife, the gun, the baseball bat, or other weapon? Sorry, I was born and raised in New Jersey. If you take a weapon from someone trying to kill you, you’d best use it – repeatedly – and leave with it until you’re sure the assailant’s dead. Then throw said weapon into the river and take a shower… (Of course, in FUNHOUSE a character raged on in a full-blown assault, though the end result was definitely not what he had in mind.)

 

The Killer Rises…

It’s not a shock when the antagonist isn’t dead after seemingly being annihilated. Yeah, we’ve seen that one a gazillion times as well. After our Final Girl or hero wipes out the big bad, the body either disappears from the scene, or the monster stands up to unleash havoc once more. Stop it, filmmakers. We don’t get a jolt. We don’t gasp. We just laugh. (Even when I was a kid, HALLOWEEN didn’t work because of this silliness.)

 

The Mirror Trick

In almost every horror, someone approaches a medicine cabinet with a mirror. They open it up, take some herpes or hemorrhoid medication, close it – and bam! A ghostly or demonic image appears. Stop it. Please. Thankfully, some use the mirror device to fake out the audience by not having anything appear in the reflection. This should keep us on our toes because this might be a sign that the filmmakers aren’t going to cater to the mundane (hopefully). (Thankfully, John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and the film BROKEN offered different takes on the abuse of mirrors.)

 

Gas Station Stop

How many times do you and your entire entourage exit the vehicle when you stop at a gas station? Sure, the driver might get out to pump gas, but why does every single horny college kid need to climb out, get a snack, take a piss, or bully a yokel? And each gas station attendant happens to be either batshit crazy, stupid, or downright evil. In all my gas station stops, I’ve never met one attendant that fit any of those three categories regardless of location. (At least in URBAN LEGEND, Brad Dourif’s socially awkward gas jockey was actually trying to help.)

 

The Trip

In real life, when people are scared, they sometimes screw up and fall on their face when running away – but not every damn time. I’m so sick of seeing stupid people scream, run, and wipe out for no apparent reason. Let’s call it the “phantom fall”. If you want the antagonist to catch up to the person, then make your lunatic monster run faster. (Didn’t the screaming kids trip and fall in every FRIDAY THE 13th movie?)

 

The Lost Art of Subtlety

Foreshadowing is especially pathetic in many a horror because it destroys the suspense. This means, don’t have two people talking, then cut to a knife on the counter, then go back to them talking – only to have one of them pick up the blade and play slasher. Whenever a filmmaker does something so blatant and pathetic, it’s a clear sign the director thinks his or her audience is made up of the lowest common denominator. (Part of the reason THE SIXTH SENSE worked so well was because the clues were subtle, yet in plain site.)

 

No Cell Service

Okay, we get it already. Just about every character in horror has a damn cell phone, but we don’t need the “I can’t get a signal” scene in every stupid film. Often, the cell phone issue doesn’t need to be addressed at all, especially if we know our group of soon to be dead pinheads is heading to a “remote” anything. Be creative and do something different. (YOU’RE NEXT had the bad guys jam the signal.)

 

Paranormal Investigation

This is the bane of the found footage subgenre. Sure, it’s simple and easy to have some idiots from a fake show investigate a haunted mental hospital and get slaughtered, but we’ve seen it dozens of times already. The paranormal investigating team setup has leap-frogged over the old, “Hey, this place was built on an Indian burial ground” premise. (Maybe this is why there are no plans for a GRAVE ENCOUNTERS III.)

 

Large Casts

When I see six college kids stuffed into an SUV heading for a remote cabin in the woods, it’s a safe bet that five of those morons are going to get ripped to shreds. Then, when they pull up to a party with twenty other people – well, you know where the body count’s headed. Stop with all the redshirting. After all, I can’t even remember the last time I witnessed a creative death scene in any movie. (It was just as much of a blast to see Joss Whedon poke fun at this and other tropes in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS as much as it was to watch Wes Craven tackle these plot redundancies in SCREAM.)

 

As a writer, I know it’s not easy to circumvent a cliché, but at least give it a shot, dammit. Otherwise, if you’re not bringing anything new to the audience, why make a film anyway? This is part of the reason why the five films I mentioned in the beginning stand out so well.

What tropes, cliché’s, and abuses are you sick of in horror?

(Photo from Geek Mode Blog.)

Crash Discussions: The Last Knock — the First Year

PodcastimageBilly and Jonny dive into the year that was: the first year of THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Besides learning about where the show came from and where it’s headed, don’t miss the discussion about the horror movies to come, and why the pair salutes indie horror, and all those special guests and fans that make the show worthwhile.

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Crash Analysis Support Team: Under the Skin (2013) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[108 minutes. R. Director: Jonathan Glazer]

No plot.

No characters.

And, for the most part, no coherent dialog.

In many ways, it’s the unofficial sequel to ERASERHEAD everybody was too afraid to ask under-the-skinfor.

UNDER THE SKIN starts with a subtle yet potent visual punch: the progress of a pinhole of light, passing through unknown spheres, before settling into place as the iris of a girl’s eye.

The girl is Laura (Scarlett Johansson). Undeniably attractive and sporting a breathy English accent, she drives around Scotland, soliciting wayward hitchhikers for sex.

Is there more to SKIN than that? The answer is yes, no, and…I don’t know.

It’s an idiosyncratic film, sporting elements of sci-fi, horror, drama, and even romance with fearless disregard for satisfying any particular genre convention. The imagery is simultaneously wonderful, terrible, and unsettling.

Like the best efforts of David Lynch, there are extended sequences in SKIN that pull you into its ambiguous undertow.

Much of the film is shot with either natural light or minimal light, leading to a literal dark experience that reflects the murky, ambivalent tone. When Laura lures (wait a second…) men into her lair, it’s a black backdrop that suspends both characters in space, until one begins to sink beneath. This could be considered a metaphor for the black-widow female, if Glazer didn’t proceed to include a scene where things are seen from the victim’s perspective (even then, it’s a prime “what-the-fuck” moment).

A man on a motorcycle pursues Laura. Is he some sort of spirit guide? A patriarch keeping a close eye on a particularly precocious child? Or the intermediary between her activities on Earth and the signals being trasmitted from the Mothership? Glazer presents Laura’s oversized van as an unfamiliar vessel, humming with strange ambient sounds and imposing features.

Like ERASERHEAD, the sound design is jarring and unsettling, and gives the film much of its distinctive feel. Most of the dialog is indecipherable (the thick Scottish accents don’t come with subtitles). Little obvious attempt is made to “clean up” the sounds of, say, traffic noise or the conversation between two people in a noisy dance club.

SKIN also recalls genre films from all ends of the quality spectrum to sample in its tapestry of strangeness: it has XTRO’s perverse perspective on abnormal sexuality (indeed, the film’s copious –and mostly male – nudity is anything but prurient); SPECIES, in its presentation of an otherworldly predator in female form; and even THE SHINING, in its depiction of a flood of viscera – a direct homage to the blood-gushing elevators in the Overlook Hotel (furthermore, Glazer’s tendency to hold a shot for a few beats too long also recalls Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous aesthetic). Beyond ERASERHEAD, the film introduces a character that’s a dead ringer for John Merrick in Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN. And the notion of men being led to their deaths by – quite literally – their erect penises, recalls the “libido = death” equation that drove/drives the last act of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978).

The film has its problems. In its presentation of a character preying on men through sex, the presentation of males preying on one-dimensional stereotypes (including – but not limited to – the notion that all men are interested in is sex through any means necessary). Similar sentiments could be attached to Laura, who is not developed (in any conventional way, at least) beyond her status as a vessel for lustful desires. That being said, SKIN’s minimalism allows a myriad of thoughts and emotions to break through its seemingly impenetrable surface; when Laura meets a Samaritan who provides her with food and shelter, the film’s sexuality takes a different – but no less ambiguous – course.

Therein lies the paradox – if UNDER THE SKIN is capable of turning its seeming detriments into points of thought-provoking contention, it’s clearly doing its job as a work of art. There is much to muddle through and mull over, but for those who are up to the challenge, it’s worth it. Glazer must be commended for leaving out the moments of exposition that would make mainstream filmgoers cheer, and art-house viewers groan.

4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb is a proud prole in service to that Orwellian nightmare known as State Government. He writes movie reviews at: numbviews.livejournal.com. Also find him on Twitter @JonnyNumb and Letterboxd – username Jonny Numb.

(Photo from Dread Central.)

Crash Discussions: The Mothers of Horror

PodcastimageWe investigate the role of the mothers in horror, from caretaker to death dealer, and how most women eventually take the helm as substitute mother in many films of the genre. We look at CUJO, ROSEMARY’S BABY, MOTHER’S DAY, FRIDAY THE 13TH, CARRIE, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, and so much more. Now be good and do what mommy tells you to do, and listen to the podcast.

Check us out on iTunes, and leave us a review!

Crash Discussions: Interview with Mark Ricche and Chris Stavrakis of Cryptic Pictures

PodcastimageMark Ricche and Chris Stavrakis of Cryptic Pictures visit THE LAST KNOCK to talk about their horror documentary, MORTAL REMAINS, based on the bizarre life and death of the notorious filmmaker, Karl Atticus. Learn about the tough road the pair took to make this feature, and how they have as much love for Denise Gossett of Shriekfest as much as Billy Crash does.

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Crash Reports: Top Ten Most Disturbing Films

As always, a list of the most disturbing films ever made is highly subjective and open to much debate. Regardless, the ones listed below have intense emotional impact due to intense stories, riveting characters, and a visceral nature that permeates the atmosphere. Needless to say, the tone is unsettling for each. From this list, three find themselves free of the horror genre moniker, though many can make a clear argument for their inclusion.

Afterwards, I have two separate lists for other disturbing horrors and non-horrors. As behind-scenes-shooting-martyrs-movie-poster.w654you’ll see, there is only one, if not two, torture porn movies on the main list. Since this sub-genre usually caters to gore without the emotional attachment, the popular installments, like Hostel and Wolf Creek, failed to make the list. After all, if a movie cannot conjure one’s emotions, then they don’t work on any level.

These top ten films come with an emotional sledgehammer to annihilate gray matter, neurons, synapses, and any other gooey parts that remain. Enjoy.

The list is in order by date of release, though the best of the best is the last of the main entries:

 

Salo (Italy/France, 1975) – 3.5 stars

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s iconic and final film before his brutal death is not a horror, though fans have tried to claim his work since its release. The story involves a group of Italian fascists at the end of World War II who believe they are superior to the citizenry. Reinforcing the terror of totalitarianism, they kidnap teenagers off the street to use and abuse as they wish. The final fifteen minutes of the feature is some of the most gut-wrenching brutality ever filmed. Pasolini used actual teenage actors, many appearing on film for the first time, much to the chagrin of critics and movie-goers.

 

Cannibal Holocaust (Italy, 1980) – 3.5 stars

Considered to be the most banned movie of all time, Ruggero Deodato was arrested by Italian authorities because they thought he had actually created a snuff film. In a sense he did. During the production, actors killed, butchered, and mutilated live animals – the most disheartening and barbaric focuses on the slaughter of a giant river turtle. Animal rights activists have been calling for Deodato’s head for decades. The story revolves around a young film crew who disappeared in the Amazon, and the film canisters that reveal their undoing. Yes, this is horror’s first foray into found footage.

 

Men Behind the Sun (Hong Kong, 1988) – 2.5 stars

This film was sponsored by Chinese authorities to expose the hostile treatment of their people at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. The film features Japanese soldiers experimenting upon and torturing Chinese citizens at a camp called Squadron 731. Like Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, animals are dispatched, but something darker rues the day: Human corpses were used to provide realism in freezing experiments and an autopsy. Though many find the film distasteful and horrific, Chinese leaders felt director Tun Fei Mou hadn’t gone far enough.

 

Audition (Japan, 1999) – 5 stars

From the beginning, Takashi Miike’s film is unsettling, but nothing beats the incredible third act of human torture. Even Miike said in an interview that this was where screenwriter Daisuke Tengan must have been doing drugs to create something so nightmarish. Then again, when a man hosts fake auditions for a non-existent television show because he’s actually in search of a mate, the audience knows karma will rear its ugly head in big, bad ways. Some viewers abandon the film once the notorious third act starts to needle them.

 

Irreversible (France, 2002) – 5 stars

Though not a horror, Gaspar Noé’s landmark cinematic feat makes it hard to think otherwise. Like the acclaimed Memento, this tale of a merciless attack on a woman is told in reverse. An infamous scene involving the horrific assault on Alex (Monica Bellucci) lasts nearly ten minutes – uncut. When first shown to French moviegoers, many booed, hissed, and walked out. Bikers threatened Noé, yet many women thanked him for not cowering from reality. As a screenplay, Irreversible provides a master class in storytelling craftsmanship.

 

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006) – 4.5 stars

The last non-horror in the list is Martin Weisz’s biopic about Germany’s Rothenburg case: Where a man allows himself to be killed and consumed by another man. The atmosphere’s mountain heavy and full of sorrow, and the end may leave one in tears. Weisz even referred to police photos, which one can find on the internet, to make certain his film captured the cannibalistic reality of this subterranean like love story, and it is as grim as it is disheartening.

 

Borderland (Mexico/USA, 2007) – 4 stars

Based upon a Mexican satanic cult murder cartel, responsible for the death of at least twenty people, including Mark Kirloy, a student from the United States, the tension in this film never lets up. One of the very best in the “A Film to Die For” series, Zev Berman delivers the perpetually unnerving and near hopeless nightmare in grand fashion. This may make anyone second guess their spring break choices.

 

Grotesque (Japan, 2009) – 1.5 stars

This was certainly made with gorehound fanaticism in mind. In Kôji Shiraishi’s exploitation of innocents in agony, a crazed “doctor” kidnaps a young couple on their first date and tears them to shreds, piece by piece, over the course of 73 minutes. That’s it. Shear unadulterated brutality and degradation. The entire film is almost pornographic in the sense that one can’t imagine there being a script. Hold onto your private parts for dear life – and keep your therapist on speed dial.

 

A Serbian Film (Serbia, 2010) – 4 stars

Srdjan Spasojevic has a couple of scenes in this freakish horror show that might not be topped for years – as long as you get the true uncut version (not the pseudo-uncut trash sold through many a website). In A Serbian Film, a retired adult star is drawn by money to make one last film, which may endanger his relationship with his family. That may sound like a simple thriller but this movie’s far from simple. Plastered with strong acting, excellent cinematography, and a story that may leave you crying, the director’s movie serves as a metaphor for how one’s treated in Serbia – from birth till death. And what an unpleasant birth it is.

 

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008) – 5 stars

This is the queen mother of disturbing cinema. Sure, other films may have more gore, more twisted premises, and more diabolical wingnut villains. But Pascal Laugier’s gorgeous ultra-bad dream serves as a traumatic taste for the senses – torture porn with a philosophy. The story, acting, special effects, cinematography, and editing are rock solid. But the crux is the tale itself, which one should never spoil with a plot summary. As far as horror films go, this has one of the most poignant endings of all time.

 

Other disturbing horrors of merit: Eraserhead (1977), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Visitor Q (2001, Japan), Inside (France, 2007), Deadgirl (2008), and The Bunny Game (2012)

Other disturbing horrors: Shogun’s Sadism (Japan, 1976), The Human Centipede (Netherlands, 2009), and The Human Centipede II (2011)

Other disturbing non-horrors: Sunset Boulevarde (1950), 1984 (UK, 1984), The Cook The Thief The Wife and Her Lover (UK/France, 1989), Glory (1989), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Dogville (Denmark/ Sweden/UK/France/Sweden/Germany/Netherlands/Norway/Finland/Italy, 2003), The Constant Gardener (UK/Germany/USA/China, 2005), Funny Games (USA/France/ UK/Austria/Germany/Italy, 2007 – and don’t forget the 1997 version), Antichrist (Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (UK/USA, 2011)

Now, horror or otherwise, what are your most disturbing films?

(Photo from Movie Posters.)

Crash Discussions: Children of Horror

Billy and Jonny team-up with very special guestPodcastimage Randy Brzoska to cover the sordid tales of evil kids in horror movies. They discuss the tropes of the genre, and how evil urchins shouldn’t be handled with kid gloves. But is the horror the fault of the children, or is it the parents or dark forces? Either way, the trio looks at VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, THE RING, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, THE INNOCENTS, GRACE, BLOODY BIRTHDAY, WAKE WOOD, and so much more. Don’t miss the children of horror!
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Crash Analysis: OUTCAST (Ireland/UK, 2010) – 4 stars

Atmospheric, fantastical and intriguing

One tries to use magic to kill a teen, another uses it to try and save him

Colm McCarthy knows a thing or two about keeping an audience engaged with the sound Outcast-2010and vision before them. After all, this screenwriter/director has helmed many a television show where hooking the audience before each commercial break and right before the end credits is a must. Mastering the cliffhanger on the small screen, McCarthy has brought his directorial and storytelling skills to theatres.

Co-written with his brother, Thomas, the pair fell back on some fatherly folklore from their youth, according to Colm McCarthy’s interview with FearNet. And the result is a suspense-filled creature feature in one of Scotland’s projects (Dalkeith near Edinburgh to be exact).

The story: A mother uses magic to protect her son from men set out to destroy him. A simple tale that isn’t that simple. First, this emotional and imagery based magic is hardcore and not something out of Disney or a candy-ass G-rated film. Second, the tale is a mystery because of the final element: the characters.

Renowned Scottish actress, Kate Dickie (of non-horror RED ROAD (UK/Denmark, 2006) fame and the disappointing Ridley Scott venture, PROMETHEUS), plays the rough and ready mother on a mission. She leads a solid cast that also includes distinguished Irish actor James Nesbitt (who appears in Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT franchise), and the inspiring Hanna Stanbridge who seems to be the love child of Phoebe Cates and Jessica Alba if they could spawn. Together, they bring us solid characters Mary, Cathal and Petronella, respectively, that are emotional and driven.

After all, nothing works best like characters on a mission they believe is ethical and just. And this is the crux of the McCarthy brother’s tale: From the beginning, even though we know the players, we are not offered much of a back story, which leads the audience to question who’s the “good guy” and who’s the villain. Yet, even at the story’s conclusion, moviegoers may still ask that same question. This is a good thing because if a movie cannot generate thought after the credits roll then what’s the point? In this sense, OUTCAST is reminiscent of Paul Solet’s remarkable low budget horror, GRACE (2009) where picking a character that’s in the wrong is not an easy task.

OUTCAST does fall a bit short, however. The subtlety of the story may be a bit too subtle at times, though a second viewing may clear up some minor plot concerns, especially when it comes to the neighborhood kids and their relationship with Petronella and her brother, Tomatsk (Josh Whitelaw in his only film appearance to date). But if this is the film’s only fault, it isn’t much to worry about.

Kate Dickie and James Nesbitt are absolutely brilliant, Darran Tiernan’s camera work is fabulous, and Tom Sayer’s excellent art direction helped create that visually stunning blue-toned look of desperation and dystopia. Overall, OUTCAST is a feast for the eyes as well as a thinking person’s horror. Hell, a grad student can write a thirty page essay exploring the notions of good and evil, the element of family, ignorance versus innocence, and coming of age, all from this one movie – and that alone makes this one to watch.

Other great Irish horrors: ISOLATION (2005), WAKE WOOD (2011), and GRABBERS (2012).

(Photo from Back Up.)