Friday, May 31, 2013

I Fall to Pieces (1982)

I should probably get this out of the way...


One of my new favourite slashers and a glorious clusterfuck of a movie, Pieces (1982) is a Spanish film set in Boston. The film opens with a child putting together a dirty puzzle. (not a puzzle that's grubby, but a naughty puzzle) His mother enters, admonishes him and he hacks her into pieces. (geddit?!) When the police enter to find the gruesome scene they find the boy tucked away in a closet, an apparently survivor of the atrocity.

The film picks up a few decades later with nubile female coeds getting sliced and diced. It's clear that the little boy who killed his mother is behind these new murders but who did the little boy grow up to be? A police officer? A professor? A creepy landscaper? The above suspicion Dean? WHO?!?!

Granted this all may seem simple but there's also a lot tennis played, volunteer undercover cops and a Kung Fu professor. Part of my immediate love for Pieces is that it speaks to the bat-shit craziness of how these slasher movies were cobbled together. Take your basic recipe of slasher ingredients and garnish with a director's random assortment of interests and that would be your movie. Since slashers were the Found Footage Horrors of yesteryear independent companies where churning them out since they were guaranteed to see a return on their (and privates investors) funding. What I love about Pieces in particular is the interpretation of the American life. From the freshly cut lawns to the deeply held Puritan values it's always interesting to get an outsiders perspective on North American society.

As for Pieces as a film it's oddly disjointed but that's what makes it so glorious to watch. Beyond the paint-by-numbers slasher plot there's so much oddball hilarity and over the top gross out scenes that it's nearly impossible not to engage with it. Around every corner there's either a jazzercize class or a killer with something sharp, it's all part of the fun!!

ALSO: I watched this movie since it's set in Boston, where I will be on Saturday June 29th giving the lecture I originally presented at the Black Museum in Toronto. Tickets are on sale here for Ghosts in the Machine the Evolution of Found Footage Horror.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Horror Mysteries: Event Horizon (1997) - Highway to Hell

I love Event Horizon. Rewatching it recently I was shocked that the same guy that has helped the Resident Evil series limp through so many sequels made this brilliantly gruesome film. Taking place in 2047 Event Horizon (a term in space exploration that mean "the point of no return") follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark who goes to investigate the reappearance of the Event Horizon, a spaceship that went missing seven years prior.

The ship reappears because Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) built a super crazy gravity drive that creates black holes which in theory would allow for infinite space travel. But because it was built by a character Sam Neill is playing, it's inherently eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil. So the crew of the Lewis & Clark (which I will stop thinking of as Lois & Clark) led by Lawrence Fishburn with Dr. Weir in tow goes to check out the newly returned ship. Once the crew dock with the Event Horizon, they board the ship to find out what happened to the crew. Almost immediately Justin (Jack Noseworthy) aka Baby Bear is sucked through the gravity drive for mere seconds and comes back in a catatonic state. The crew finds the footage of the former crew enjoying the finer points of sadomasochism and decides to get the fuck out. Parts of the ship were damaged so while the crew works to fix them, the Event Horizon messes with them and finally takes control of Dr. Weir who sabotages them at every point.

Did you shave differently?
This poses an interesting question, when Justin was first sucked in the ship seemed to activate itself, towards the end of the film, the ship requires Dr. Weir to activate it. Now it's implied that the ship can do things on its own (since it's basically a big haunted house in space) BUT those could all be hallucination which would make the ship more a psychosomatic entity rather than a physical one.  

The Easy Button

The other possibility, since Weir's goal is to send the WHOLE ship to the Hell dimension that the Event Horizon can open small portals (that could suck one person in) but the gravity drive needs to be fully activated by someone to send the whole shebang to Hell.

Formal Testing

OR the Event Horizon is testing the new crew that's come on board. The first crew whom we catch glimpses of through the recovered footage is all about the Hell dimension; ripping out eyes, weird sexual acts, they're all over it, Jerry! So, what to do when a new crew arrives? FEATS OF STRENGTH! Or just mess with them for a bit to see if any of them are susceptible to joining the Cruise to Hell. That way the ship bides its time to see who is up for it. Since Weir is the only one, it makes sense (well, for this movie) that he would take on trying to dispatch with the rest of them then hightail it out of our dimension to his new home.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Trailer Review: Gravity (2013) or Where the F@#& is Iron Man?!

Confession time guys, when I was in school it was really cool to say you wanted to be an astronaut. Maybe it was because of the resurgence of Star Trek TNG or for other non-nerdy reasons but I remember a lot of kids saying that they want to be space explorers or some such non-sense. I also remember telling my mom I would never be an astronaut. "Why, honey?" she'd ask. Well, Mom, this:

This was/is pretty much my exact fear.

Gravity is the new film by Alfonso CuarĂ³n, his first film since he directed one of my all time favourite films Children of Men. From my understanding, this film was ready to go for a long time but got held up with casting. With a budget of $80 million and an intense yet strangely specific premise the studio needed star power behind this film, so who do you call? George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. I'm not huge fans of either of them but firstly, I've got nothing against Sandra Bullock, secondly at least she's not playing a mom, thirdly it's strangely refreshing to see a grown ass woman as a scientist. 

This is a great trailer. It's intriguing, intense and horrific in an entirely different way than what we're used to. Most horror trailers are like a montage from the film and inevitably give something away. The Gravity trailer focuses on a specific incident and it becomes more horrifying as it goes on. In our recent Faculty of Horror podcast about fear, I talked about this Psychology Today article which breaks down our basic fears. I think the Gravity trailer is a great realization of the fear of loss of autonomy. Space is the great equalizer in films. Whether it's Alien or Event Horizon we're all susceptible to the elements out there and it also fucks with our notions of God complexes and humanity inevitably. (that's usually the third act twist)

Will Gravity be the great film we're expecting? (as great as the trailer at least) I'm not sure sure. It's an intriguing but small plot which is hard to sustain. I have great faith in Cuaron as a director and writer but I have less faith in Bullock and Clooney being able to give sustained focused performances.

I'm going to hope that this movie kicks ass. It's original, I've been waiting for a new movie from this guy since 2006 and this trailer alone chilled me to my core.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Short Film Review - Legitmate (2013)

While Canada is mired in its own Conservative government, the US has seemed permanently plagued by it's puritan values which are the soap-box for the likes of the whackadoo Tea Party platform to stand on. For outsiders it's confusing, disturbing and scary. I can't imagine what it's like to be immersed in that culture.

Boston based director Izzy Lee's new short Legitimate (soon to be making the rounds at the likes of the Mascara and Popcorn Festival in Montreal as well as the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival in Cambridge) is lyrically dark take on the seemingly prevailing attitudes towards female sexuality and rape in the present climate. The film opens with the unintentionally sensational quote from former Missouri Representative Todd Akin, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that thing down." Beyond Akin's bizarre lack of understanding of the female body can and can't do, it immediately brought to light the notion of "legitimate rape", is there a time that rape is ever consensual? Are women who get pregnant from rape lying about the experience? If anything, that quote revealed that a portion of the population are unable or unwilling to understand the various facets of rape which, to me, is scarier than any monster under my bed.

Legitimate begins with a male politician (Michael Thurber) being seated in a darkened room with a drink. A woman in lingerie and bound with white rope begins to dance for him as he holds on to the rope. As the woman unties herself through the dance, the man becomes sleepy with an indication that his drink was spiked. In the later half of the six minute short, the man awakens horrified at what has happened to him.

Legitimate seems like a deleted scene from a particularly dark episode of Twin Peak with its dream-like atmosphere and surreal quality. The film makes use of its standout score by Montreal composer Shayne Gryn, which is unique yet instantly haunting and boosts the film's cinematic quality. Director Lee sets her sights on giving the male character an experience of a forced violent assault. From the dance to the woman, Legitimate sets up the supposed fantasy of the sexualized submissive woman but with a terrifying outcome. The women that appear in the later half of the film turn the tables on the politician who is seemingly unable or unwilling to see women outside of his own terms.

What is so fascinating about Legitimate is that it is horrifying for both genders, the dream-like quality becomes nightmarish as the male gaze is corrupted and destabilized. The women are driven to extremes and the man punished for his misogyny. It is poignant and horrific, a sign of the time for a political force that is unable to expand their world view. Lee's bold direction begins with the male gaze that we are so accustomed to then bravely forces us to question it by making us uncomfortable with the dynamics between the dancer and the politician. It is aggressive and passive, and chillingly banal for both parties involved until the tables are turned.

Legitimate is a terrifying look at where we are headed because of our dependence on gender roles and perceived safety. It examines the violent places people are pushed in order to be heard or avenged. It is a glimpse of a darker journey down a road that our culture is unknowingly going down.

See the teaser for Legitimate here.