Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Horror Genres: The Breakdown (updated!)

Horror is a big-ass genre. A lot of things could be called "horror" as much as they could be called other things. Some people are adamant that Silence of the Lambs is a mystery-thriller while others are staunchly supportive of its horror status. Now, this all comes down to personal taste and one's own views on the horror genre. To some it's still lowly schlock and they could never imagine an Oscar-winning movie to fall in that category. To each their own I say. I'm not out to change anyone's mind. (and if you're reading a horror blog you're probably more to my way of thinking which is: horror rules - suck it, nerds!)

I'm going to do a series of post breaking down the different sub-genres with a description of each as well as some highlights and low-lights.

This one is going to be a list of the genres. If you think I've left something out, let me know. But for now, on to the list!

In no particular order...

Creature Features

I submit that this genre is more about monsters. Jeepers Creepers to King Kong to Hollow Man I would consider a Creature feature. Basically a creature or monster we as a collective consciousness do not have an understanding of. It needs to be explained. 

Literary Monsters

These ones are monsters that we do share a collective knowledge of, specifically from the Victorian era such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera and Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Filmmakers are forced to produce a representation of the monster that either affirms our understanding of it or challenges it. 


Killer - usually masked - usually chasing and killing sex loving teens until a virginal chick offs him until the next sequel


Ghosts, demons, the generally unexplainable. These forces follow unassuming people either warning them or harming them.


The big-bad-Devil did it!!! No seriously, he totes did. Big in the 60s and 70s they make reappearance every so often trying to re-define our relationship with religion.


A lot of people consider this one a genre unto itself and rightfully so. Science Fiction has enough of its own history to accomodate that. But there's still an awful lot of horror that scares the bejesus out of me.


Funny yet still scary. This one extra super tricky to get and maintain balance in. A lot of people have tried. Few have succeeded.


Big in the 70s it's recently had a bit of a comeback riding on the torture-porn wave. Lots of time is devoted to violence in this. The plots are generally quite simple with the goal being an emotional and cathartic outcome.


'nuff said.


Mother Nature can be a cold hard bitch sometimes. These movies have nothing to do with killers, possession or any other thing. These movies establish fear through real elements. These situations, though extreme, are plausible. This genre lends itself to establishing a link with the audience through identification.

I'll mention at this point, which most of you already know, that movies can be a blend of genres. Survival of the Dead could be considered both a Survival and a Zombie. The ensuing blog posts will deal with the best possible examples of each genre. Thanks for all your input and keep it coming! Let's dork it up and make this as thorough as possible.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stuck In A Moment That You Can't Get Out Of

I've never been skiing or snowboarding. Every few years I'll start think about trying it and inevitably a celebrity dies. So to prevent another rash of celebrity deaths I've stopped thinking about my potential as a Gold Medal skier.

Watching Adam Green's Frozen has now made me think twice about getting on the muthaeffing lift. But I've got mad respect for a blog called Final Girl and the film club there, which Frozen is the latest selection in. When you get on that lift anything could happen. It could stop. You could fall. There could be wolves. You could reveal deep personal truths to someone you previously didn't even like.

Which is what happens to a trio of American Eagle Outfitter models. This movie should not work. The premise is exactly what's in the poster. The actors, though very attractive, are bland. An hour of the movie takes place on a ski lift, there ain't no secondary plot about a lonely ski resort worker. But, y'know what? Writer/Director Adam Green makes it work. I've never seen Hatchet but I've heard a lot about his work. While I wasn't blown away by the script Green manages to create a surprising amount of tension and empathy towards the characters. Green makes sure to milk every opportunity and explore every option of their escape to make it clear how bleak the outlook is.

And in the great tradition of movie metaphors every character becomes frozen in one way another. Some more literally than others.

Movies like Frozen aren't my cup of tea but this one genuinely milks the potential of the situation. Even the emotional parts between the tension filled moments are tolerable. Check it for something that stays inside the box but that still make you cower behind the larger pieces of your furniture.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The More You Know: February Is Women In Horror Month

Yes, yes I realize we're more than half-way through February but it's Women in Horror Month, people!!! It's a month long celebration of female directors, writers, bloggers, actresses, cinematographers, academics and more with a tie to horror movies. I cannot possibly explain the importance of women in horror in one wee blog post, especially when others are doing it a real service, so here are some resources for those that are interested.

The best way to start is with some books which is where I learned my horror theory. After watching movies after movie it's great to be able to put some context to the whole thing. The best one to start with is Carol J Clover's Men, Women and Chainsaws. It's pretty contentious and not for everyone but if you're going to get all uppity about theory and opinions you have to understand them and any book that carefully deconstructs Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is ok by me.

Research! Did you know Pet Sematary was written and directed by a woman? Did you know one of the handful of female writers to win an Oscar for Best Screenplay also wrote a horror movie? Did you know the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar also directed one of the most accalimed horror movies of the 80s? Didja didja didja????? There are many more out there. So get on IMDB and start checking your favourite movies and see where the ladies are at.

I'm going to try and stop beating the dead horse of "everything's a boy's club waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" but there certainly is a pull towards that. Writers like Stacie Ponder of Final Girl and Heidi Martinuzzi founder and writer of Fangirltastic are really challenging and giving hilarious thought and debate to all things horror and women related on their respective websites and their equally awesome weekly podscast The Scarening. There are a TON of other great horror blogs and websites to check out and I just happen to think these ones in particular are the bees knees.

If you've read this far and you're still interested in all things women and horror check the website aptly named Women in Horror Month.

The future is in your hands. Making an impact by adding to the number of people that read my blog is really nice... but doesn't do much to the promotion of women in horror. So start making stuff. Get creative. Yes, this sounds like the end of Dead Poet Society or something. But, for real. Stop talking about wanting to do something and start adding to the conversation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Horror Movie Coolie: Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil (2002)

I have an unabashed and deep love for Resident Evil and an even deeper love for Milla Jovovich. My M.J. love stems from The Fifth Element because that movie also fucking rocks. But in Resident she looks hot and believable holding gun. The other great thing about Milla Jovovich is, as Alice, she looks and acts like a woman. Not a girl. Not a plaything. But a woman. Who happens to be wearing a sexy red dress. But she's wearing flats so I feel like that balances it out.

No bra, no problem.
Writer/director Paul W.S Anderson makes one of the best action-horror hybrids ever, which isn't that surprising when you consider he also brought us Event Horizon. Now, I know a lot of people go on and on that it has almost nothing to do with the video game except for the premise. To be honest, I can't really get behind people getting upset about changing fictional things that never happened.

Anderson's film takes the common root of an Alice in Wonderland structure with the main character being called Alice and the computer program being called The Red Queen and all the zombies and what not. I love this darn movie so much I even love it's horrible sequels. You won't be able to convince me otherwise. They may never be able to duplicate the simplicity and effectiveness of the first one, but I sure do enjoy watching them try.

Good and literal brainless fun. Also, awesome side-boob.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roommate Wanted

The Roommate is a totally proficient movie. The best part about it is it's a true B-Movie. So bad it's funny because, gosh-darn it, they're trying. Too many movies are trying to be B-Movie but it doesn't work (cough cough Piranha 3D cough cough) but The Roommate is pure, simple trash. And it has Billy Zane.

But I digress...

Sara is a Jennifer Lopez look-a-like who wants to become a fashion designer (which is the only explanation for all the hats she wears) so of course she enrolls in a 4-year Design course at a university. Fuck Parsons or Central St. Martins. This one has Billy Zane on the faculty.

Sara eventually meets her roommate, Rebecca. Who is not Billy Zane. In any event, Rebecca is a Stage-5-Clinger and starts creeping everyone out. People must get scared easily in Southern California because all Rebecca's really got in her arsenal is a stink face, greasy hair and a pallid complexion.

She does her best pseudo-psycho stalker on Sara which consists of bringing her coffee after class. The amazing thing about this movie is that Rebecca is clearly the sane one. She gets rid of (and by "gets rid" I mean she rips out a slutty girl's belly-button ring, gets a pervert teacher fired and kills her creepy ex-boyfriend, so y'know... it varies) awful people.  I mean, good friends with morals are hard to find.

It's one of those great movies, where nothing is that bad and it doesn't matter that much but boy do the characters over-react to everything. And not just the crazy one. This finally began to make sense after I looked up the cast on IMDB and almost everyone is from a lightweight CW drama. Just remember, everything matters more when you're a 28 year old playing a 19 year old.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movies That Should Have Been Horror Movies

If you're like me, and most of you are probably only figments of my imagination, you've seen enough horror movies to know that it takes a simple twist of music, menace and low-lighting to turn a regular movie into a horror one.

5. 500 Days Of Summer

I get that this movie is supposed to be some kind of honest portrayal of our insecurities when we enter into a relationship, but really people. Who doesn't think Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is some kind of pod person. All this movie really needs is some kind of Michelle Rodriguez type to take her down with the business end of a shovel.

4. Donnie Brasco

Al Pacino already played the Devil in the Devil's Advocate and since he basically plays the same character in every movie it is clear that he always plays the Devil. Just like Robert DeNiro always plays that guy in Meet the Parents. It's a simple cut and paste job. This way Johnny Depp goes undercover but the mob's run by THE DEVIL HIMSELF and that explains Anne Heche's wackiness.

3. Groundhog Day

Just take out every scene with Andie McDowell including the happy ending and you've got Jacob's Ladder.

2. Hannah Montana The Movie

This one is easy. Cut a couple scenes and you've got a super-natural thriller starring a girl with split personalities. The perils of fame drive her forward and end in a horrifying conclusion with a priest blowing up a concert to destroy the evil. Only Billy Ray survives...

1. They Shoot Horses Don't They?

A couple tweaks and in this version, the horses shoot back!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Common Horror Movie Twists And How To Spot Them

So before I can get into this spoilerific post, I've got some house-keeping to do. I tried to finish watching Blessed. I really really tried. But it got worse and worse and eventually I couldn't take H-Gra and Egg-Free so they're better left to what happens to them in my imagination.

I also saw The Rite last weekend and I've been trying to figure out what to make of it since. It's just... really boring. I can take schlock and exploitation but what I cannot abide is boredom. And the Rite is duuuuuuuuuuuuuullll. There's a few okay jump-scares but those always get me. The final possession scene where it's Anthony Hopkins that's afflicted seems like a dinner party where Hopkins' has had a few too many and is just doing impressions of people he's worked with in the theatre.

So now, on to our feature presentation! I started watching yet another movie on Netflix (which is really starting to let me down) and figured out the twist in the first 10 minutes. Now, I'm not particularly smart but I do watch an awful lot of movies. The good, bad and ugly, I'll watch'em all! (is anyone else totes excited for The Roomate's release? I AM) There are, however, few endings that make me go, "oh SNAP." So faster than you can say Kaiser Soze let's break down the most common twists.

1. The protagonist did it
2. Several of the characters are part of a multiple personality/ Main character suffers from multiple personalities
3. It was all a dream/premonition
4. Protagonist attempts to solve a murder or find someone proving only that they are looking for themselves
5. They've been dead the whole time

I'm sure you can think of at least a few examples of each one, easily. The problem with twist endings is we're expecting them. The Crying Game was a tiny movie that made a bajillion dollars because of a simple use of marketing - don't give away the ending.

Now, out of the most common types of twists, there are the smart ones and the lazy ones. The smart ones are where the movie uses a twist to illuminate the themes of the movies and quietly leads you to it. The Sixth Sense is one of the best examples of this. The infamous twist ending packs a punch but the clues are integrated into the movie and in the end serve to give the audience a better understanding of the movie as a whole. Bruce Willis was so busy he ignored his wife and didn't realize he was dead.

The lazy ones are in films where they get sooooooooooooooooooooo crazy that the only way to end it is say it was all a dream or they were all dead etc, etc. The one that comes immediately to my mind is The Devil's Advocate. I got sucked into this one and when the ending happened I wanted to smash my tv.

So... how to spot a twist ending. Let's take it off of the above list

1. The protagonist did it as seen in High Tension.

Shit son, this one is employed soooo many times that you should go in assuming the protagonist did it in every movie. But since I brought it up, let's talk High Tension. There is NO WAY she could have been the murderer but the movie insists on it despite the sheer lack of evidence and logical implausibility. Like I say. It's in every movie. You just have to look for it.

2. Several of the characters are part of a multiple personality/ Main character suffers from multiple personalities as seen in Psycho

The mother of all horror movies, Psycho, gets this one down pat. You could also use Identity or My Soul To Take as examples. But they suck. A good rule of thumb for this one is look for over-acting and broad characters. The broader they are the more likely they are parts of one person. Over-acting is indicative of ... well ... the only way to play someone with multiple personalities. It ain't a subtle disease, people!

3. It was all a dream/premonition as seen in The Devil's Advocate

I think Keanu Reeves has made the most appearances out of any other actor in this blog. Which has to some kind of accomplishment. Anyhoozle, the easiest way to spot this twist is just to look for a bat-shit crazy plot line. Something that gets crazier and crazier and there looks like there's no way out, except there is. It was all a dream.

4. Protagonist attempts to solve a murder or find someone proving only that they are looking for themselves as seen in The Number 23

Memento is the best example of this but it's not a horror movie. The Number 23 is kind of something along the lines of suspenseful so we'll count it. Look for characters who are wearing the emotional equivalent of horse-blinders. Any character who doggedly pursues something did it. Now that's a guilt complex!

5. They've been dead the whole time as seen in The Others and Carnival of Souls

Limited contact with others. That's about it. This is generally used in classier horror films as it's subtler than any of the other cliches mentioned. To pull it off it requires a deft hand that not many have.