Thursday, November 29, 2012

Watching the Detectives - Ghostwatch (1992)

Want to whip the British people into a panic? Get a respected name possessed on "live" TV and have a real-life BBC reporter ghost-murdered on the same broadcast. And keep saying it's real. Real, real, real.  And this is exactly what happened back in 1992. Of course it helps that it aired on the BBC one of the most trusted names in news and features their actual reporters delivering darn good performances.Despite airing on Halloween evening, during the time when the BBC usually aired a drama program, a large percentage of the British population that watched this supposedly live event believed it to be real, causing a mass panic on the same level as when Orson Wells' War of the Worlds radio play aired.

The conceit is a simple one, beloved TV personality Michael Parkinson is sitting in studio with a paranormal expert Dr Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevans) while a small camera crew (including reporter Sarah Greene) enter a house that is purportedly haunted. The show cuts between the studio which is based around Parkinson's discussion about Dr. Pascoe about paranormal phenomenon and a hotline set up at the BBC to receive phone calls from the public. Meanwhile at the house, Sarah along with a camera and sound guy hang out with the two daughters of this family whom the supposed ghost seems to be focusing on.

The first half, like most found footage movies, is a looooooong slow burn. The camera crew wait around investigating every bump and thump but slowly (very slowly) this begins to change. The call-in line is inundated with callers experiencing paranormal occurrences of their own. Flashes of bizarre, unexplainable images. And the true nature of the house and neighborhood is revealed as we learn about the figure known as "Pipes". It is a calmer, stiff-upper lip version of Paranormal Activity. It's a much quieter 90 minutes, with less in fighting and bickering.

The performances are stellar all-around, and the real life BBC reporters are utterly convincing. The fact that every occurrence can be almost explained away helps the conceit along all the more. The only problems lie in the ending when everything escalates beyond the point of believability. Though very creepy, the ending shits the proverbial bed a bit for me.

Like many found footage horror pieces, it starts off with a great slow burn but then feels the need to pay-off in some over the top way (or in a "no way" a la The Devil Inside). ThoughI don't know what I would have done differently. Ghostwatch still scared the bejesus out of me. (this may have been since at the time my apartment was having heating issues and immediately after the Ghostwatch ended, the pipes started making horrible noises) I simply wish the filmmakers had stuck to their guns a bit more and left on a note of uncertainty, rather than one of blowing things up.

If anyone's looking to get me a present, I'll happily take the framed picture of the bedsheet ghost

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sinister - I'm Going To Write the Best Blog Post Anyone's Ever Written

I really wanted to see Sinister. I also really wanted to like Sinister. I wanted to like and see it so much I saw it by myself a month after it came out. I even treated myself to nachos and the sodium rich cheese-like substance that comes with them to further my enjoyment of this would-be wondrous film. I'd heard mixed things but was undeterred. It would be the Fall version of the Woman in Black, not the best horror movie ever made but it would be a freaky, fun, thrill-ride or whatever other sayings Peter Travers-types use. But, um, no. So no. Big no.

This is going to be pretty spoiler-filled since it did come out a month ago. So if you don't want spoilers please enjoy some of the other fine posts on this site. 

The basic plot is real-life crime author Ethan Hawke who is a douche moves his douche family to a house where a family was brutally executed except for a daughter that is missing. (it is undetermined whether the murdered family were douches as well) Ethan Hawke's wife claims she doesn't want to know what happened at their new house, then gets angry when she finds out. She also says that she's tired of moving and if the book he's working on doesn't go well, she'll take the kids and leave him; then she says she'll never leave him. He has a jagweed son who has night terrors but other than that is only in 3-4 scenes and is an asshole in them. He also has a daughter that is fantastically talented at painting, except it's painfully obvious that an artist was hired to paint her murals and the director stuck a dry paint brush in her hand and told her to go over what was already there. So, welcome to Dysfunctional Family USA.

Still looking for the plot.
While putting boxes in the attic Ethan Hawke finds a box of Super 8 films marked "Home Movies" which shows not only the family that used to live there being executed but several others being murdered in different ways. Determined to solve this mystery on his own (and re-claim his author glory which is a thing apparently) he doesn't hand them over to the cops but drinks heavily and watches them over and over in an effort to crack the case.  He enlists the help of a police officer who he calls Deputy So and So which gets funnier every time they revisit the joke, no ... wait, it does the opposite. 

In one of the most painfully obvious mysteries ever committed to screen, Ethan Hawke discovers that each of the families lived in the house that the previous family that had been murdered lived in. Vincent D'Onofrio tells Ethan Hawke via iChat (drink every time there an Apple product or app used and you'll go blind from alcohol consumption) about a Pagan deity named Bagul aka the Eater of Children who possess people then takes their children and eats their souls. For a few scenes it's hinted at that Ethan Hawke might just be going crazy. But that's dropped shortly thereafter once director Scott Derrickson decides what this film really needs is a Whack-a-Mole game starring Bagul and some dead kids awkwardly shushing you.

The makeup in this is awful. These dead kids look like my first attempt at doing a smokey-eye.
Ethan Hawke decides it's all very real, burns all the footage and yells at his wife that they're leaving and go back to their old home. Once there, Deputy So and So calls, and tells Ethan Hawke that the pattern in the murders is that the families were killed after they moved so now the Douches fit the pattern and if the killer is still out there, they're in trouble. Ethan Hawke then finds the same Super 8 box in the attic again with new footage that reveals that the missing kids killed their families. If I may... MOTHER-FUCKING-DUH! Rather than, I don't know, doing something, Ethan Hawke gets drugged and wakes up with his hands and feet bound next to his wife and son. His daughter appears says something lame like, "don't worry Daddy, I'll make you famous again" and in the smartest move in the film hacks them all into little bits. She paints with blood on the walls and then Bagul takes her to eat her soul. Or something.... that ending went on forever. And with one last jump scare.... 


So, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy is this so bad? Oh, let me count the ways. 

Firstly, do you see how many times I've typed "family" in the above paragraphs? A lot. Do you know what's not in Sinister a whole lot? Families. Yes, they're talked about but I barely remember what the Douches looked like because the camera was obsessed with Ethan Hawke and his stupid cardigan. It's like The Shining if Danny and Wendy only popped up in a few scenes. I needed to actually care about these characters so when they were in trouble I could be emotionally invested in them. In fact, I was pretty glad that they died horrible deaths.

Secondly, Bagul. I don't actually know that much about Bagul because it's not really explained. Bagul lives in images, but he has a Super 8 reproduction centre in his underworld?  How the hell is he making these Supe 8 films reappear all over the country. I mean, The Ring has a villain with the same means etc but they actually are able to explain a lot of it. Does it make sense? No. Do I care? No! It's creepy and it fun. Bagul just kind of pops up, hangs out and is sort of creepy. Here's a tip for all aspiring screenwriters out there - it's important to ask WHY and HOW protagonists and antagonists want things. Bagul eats children because it gives him power I guess. But what kind of power? Will he get evilerer now? How did people stop him before? It seemed like they got close to asking and answering these kinds of questions in the film but stopped short. Did the police department know about this? (all the clues were in front of them) Could they have been trying to cover it up to stop the murders?

Thirdly, the trailer. It gives away basically the entire plot and ALL the decent scares. BOO-URNS I say!

Fourthly, Ethan Hawke. Outside of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset he is pure douche. I only wish I'd seen more of him getting hacked to bits. It doesn't help that he's saddled with awful dialogue like, "I'm going to write the best book anyone's ever written." WHO SAYS THAT? ARE YOU TOLSTOY? Jeez.

Friday, November 9, 2012

5 Most Terrifying Film Characters

Well, the leaves have settled in the wake of Halloween, Christmas (oh, I mean the Holidays) has thrown up inside the interior of every Starbucks known to man so I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of my most terrifying film characters ever. This isn't unsettling film characters, or ones that creep you out... this is a list of characters who make you afraid to open your eyes in the middle of the night, or make you wonder about what's behind that door. Pure, unadulterated terror. The kind of fear that makes you feel like a little kid again. For better or worse, it's characters like these who keep me coming back to horror movies. They transgress the norm of what films do, these stay with you.

I felt so overwhelmed by horror choice in the month of October that I'm using the next couple months to cleanse and refine my horror palate. (along with watching Black Christmas 20 times) Here are some characters that leaped forth from the recesses of my mind and have terrified me with... um... terror...  time and again.

5. Angel of Death - Hellboy 2 (2008)

While Hellboy 2 is no horror film, Doug Jones' performance as the Angel of Death genuinely terrified me. It was a mix of the distorted voice, the fluid movements and the underlying malice of its power.


Holy shitpoops you guys. I barely remember what the Skesis are or what they want but they chill me to the bone. When I was little I used to be so scared a group of them would attack me when I slept and rip off my skin. Actually, scratch that last bit. I'm still scared they'll do that.

3.Woman in Black - The Woman in Black (2012) /Tooth Fairy - Darkness Falls (2003)

These two are pretty much on par for me. Scary woman, obstructed face, ghostly powers that kill... What I find so creepy about both these characters is their inherent evil and anger and that death only made it stronger. Evey time I get up to get a glass of water in the middle of the night I swear I see one of them in the shadows.

2. Jack - American Werewolf in London (1981)

Yes, yes... horror comedy... I get it. I blame seeing this when I was around 9 or 10. Then I also blame Rick Baker's effects.But mainly my prolonged fear of it stems from when David adjusts the mirror in the bathroom to reveal a mutilated ghost-Jack behind. I think of that scene nearly every time I bend my head down to wash my face and bring it back up to look in the mirror.

1. Zelda - Pet Sematary (1989)

I'm just going to leave this right here... "I'm going to twist your back just like mine, so you'll never get out of bed again! Never get out of bed again! NEVER GET OUT BED AGAIN! NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!" ... Yup...

Sweet dreams everyone.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Devil's Cake: Rosemary's Baby and Food

Rosemary's Baby is a fascinating exploration of paranoia, alienation and identity. There is also a hell of a lot of eating in the film. And if you include the sense of smell into the mix, then you've got nearly 50% of the film taken up by characters eating and smelling or talking about eating and smelling. The food becomes so intertwined with plot that they are bound together, possibly through Christian mythology.

The first time we encounter food within the film is when the happy young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse have dinner with their soon to be former landlord Hutch. Food comes into play again when the Woodhouses befriend Roman and Minnie Castevets. The Castevets have them over for dinner that consists of tough meat and revolting cake (according to Rosemary anyway, Guy seems to eat it up - literally and figuratively). Then, of course, there is the chocolate mousse that Rosemary swears has a chalky taste to it which eventually knocks her out allowing the Satanic cult that lives next door to raise the Devil and allow him to rape her. Rosemary then suffers from her pregnancy feeling only pain and drinks only coffee. In a moment of confrontation between Rosemary and Guy when she demands real medical attention for her pain, the pain miraculously dissipates. We then see her eat an extemely raw piece of meat which turns her mouth red as the blood and juice drips out. Minnie still plies her with cake and drinks.When Rosemary eventually makes her daring escape only to be caught by Guy and her Satanic doctor and returned to their apartment where she gives birth. She is told the baby died but that she and Guy can try again once they move to LA. She is fed plain broth and toast as she recovers. But lo, she hears a baby crying and... well, I think (or I hope) we all know what happens from there.

The relationship between gender and food is a complicated one. Women are generally associated with being nurturers and mothers often meaning making and consuming family meals. When Rosemary's Baby was released in 1968, the feminism movement was coming to a head. Gender roles were changing within the social structure. Rosemary is an interesting example of an emerging feminist. She is beginning to question Guy and her marriage but ultimately values her role as a wife and homemaker (the montage of her fixing up the apartment is particularly apt at showing this). There is an interesting dichotomy between Rosemary and Minnie with Minnie taking over many of the cooking duties (making dinner, preparing snacks) so when Rosemary decides to cook, she must assert herself to do so.

One of the big debates that was emerging just prior to this period was the notion that nurturing and reproduction were "forces of human labor" (Source) which expanded the traditional Western notion of the value of production and labor. The production of food is also heavily linked to family dynamics. Minnie is already inserting herself into the fold of the Woodhouse's family by infantalizing Rosemary and rendering herself a faux-mother figure which ultimately seeks to subvert their family.

In analysis of food on film, food (the production of it anyway) is generally associated with a divine grace (Source) so Rosemary's Baby offers the perversion of that. (similarly to the inverted cross representing the Devil) When the Woodhouses initially eat Minnie's food Rosemary is disgusted by the tough steak and revolting cake. Even the chocolate mousse which is initially delicious comes with an unwanted aftertaste. Even the supposed decadence of the food (cake, steak etc)  seems to be in direct opposition in the taking of sacrament in Christianity. Though food is our body's fuel- our sustenance- Rosemary's Baby reveals the temptation provided by the Castevets. While Guy is offered fame and fortune, Rosemary is offered the proverbial apple. Even though she rejects it, it is forced upon her which in my opinion illuminates the true nature of fear within Rosemary's Baby; the notion that even if we reject evil it can still be forced upon us by playing to our weaknesses. Rosemary still values being a mother, and therefore even after bringing the Anitchrist into the world, she cannot reject them. She still has no real agency or choice no matter how hard she fights.

But at least she spits in Guy's face.