Tag Archives: horror

Shriek-Worthy, Feminist-Friendly Horror Flicks

What exactly is a feminist-friendly horror film? Well, it is no secret the genre has catered to the male gaze for a very long time, with its penchant for big-breasted women who seemingly have never had “The Talk” (you know the one about walking alone in the dark with keys as a makeshift ‘weapon’) and blithely waltz into peril, defying any logic or self-preservation instincts. Then, there are the characters fitting into the promiscuity-hyper-inflated-for-the-male-gaze trope. In other words, girls don’t have sex in the woods because, well, Jason. It seems that the only strong female characters in horror are victims of particularly grisly violence who seek to wreak their revenge.

This low bar notwithstanding, there are plenty of feminist-friendly horror films that eschew these essentialist portrayals to offer much more nuanced imaginary. What fascinates and what horrifies us is very much a social commentary. Feminist-friendly horror films make us question gender, sexual, religious and political givens. They make us wonder who gets to define what is horrific. From the days of the OG Mary Shelley to the present, there are plenty of horror films that tear apart the veil of normalcy to give us a glimpse of something weirdly intriguing. Sometimes, the film between the comical and the serious, between the imagined and the real, is so flimsy as to be imperceptible — this is what makes a good feminist-friendly horror film. Or if not cerebral good, at least entertainment good, like in the original 1978 John Carpenter-helmed “Halloween,” when Laurie Strode uses such staples of domesticity as a knitting needle and a clothing hanger to whip “The Shape” into shape.

Book Review: The Horror is Us by Justin Sanders (Editor)

My review for the Washington Independent Review of Books

Riffing on that famous quip that “horror is other people,” the authors in this slim, affecting anthology from Baltimore-based Mason Jar Press speak of the horror that is us. The stories are pithy — most run just a few pages — but powerful in their parsimony.

Laura Walker’s “A Trick of Uncertain Light,” for instance, at first appears to be a simple tale of a girl stranded in a car on a dark desert road who encounters a guy driving a tow truck. But she’s not a girl in a car; she is “a rabbit feeling the primal liquid-boned fear of desert prey.” And the man in the truck hasn’t stopped out of concern. “Something’s not right. I can feel it the way you can sense the threat of storm when the wind kicks up before the clouds start rolling in.”

The imagery is evocative: “He cuts off my response, slices into the fear of the moment, spilling it.” Fear is spilling toward an inexorable end here, one that is not described and, hence, looms even larger. “Besides, there are things that bullets can’t stop from happening.”

Abigail Teed’s “Rise” and “The Pine Witch” by Alexandria Baker are both about a return to something from the past. The former has Native American mythological elements, while the latter features Wiccan notes. Continuing the theme of the everyday gone awry, the coven in “The Pine Witch” isn’t too far removed from members of a sorority house, sort of like a modern (and far less corny) take on the 1996 supernatural-thriller movie “The Craft.” As with other stories in the collection, the menace is unnamed — and thus all the more terrifying — and the words relentless in their simplicity: “I closed my eyes and reveled in the smell of burning flesh.”

Another brilliant offering is Justin Sanders’ “Baphomet and Blue,” about a Neo-Nazi death cult. The subject matter is all too believable and seemingly plucked from the headlines — police racism and brutality — but it’s given a sinister twist. A music fest turns brutal as participants wreak havoc and enact the violent reality idealized in the songs. As the author points out, “White power music is the number one method for recruiting new members.” Evil sometimes wears a badge instead of a pentagram.

Comic-book writer Scott Bryan Wilson’s “The Enthusiastic Butcher” is a keen dissection of our social-media-obsessed world. Its protagonist cuts deeper and deeper into himself (on several levels) in a vanity-fueled quest for attention and an escape from a life of loneliness. “He was like a king washed up on a desert island, his subjects sending him messages in bottles.”

The tale is a trenchant commentary on the terrifying ways in which we as a society keep pushing beyond boundaries personal, ecological, and global. The first cut is the deepest — or not, it seems to suggest.

Though spare, The Horror Is Us is nonetheless incisive and provocative. Its stories are smartly curated and fleshy, making it a must-read for any fan of the horror genre in its most modern iteration.

“It” Successfully Floats, And So Will You

My review of “It” for The Eagle

Stephen King’s seminal─and wildly popular─tome “It” is newly interpreted by “Mama” writer and director, Andy Muschietti. Unlike the 1990 TV mini-series, this silver screen adaptation focuses on the protagonists’ childhood encounter with the demonic killer-clown Pennywise, leaving the adulthood one for a future sequel.

The setting is 1989 in the small town of Derry, Maine. Beneath the bucolic exterior, something dark is stirring in the town’s underbelly─literally, in the sewers, and figuratively, too. Whatever “it” is, it kills children. And adults, too. But mostly children. The film opens with the classic scene of six-year-old, yellow-raincoat-clad Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) chasing a paper boat that falls into a drain. Enter Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who lures Georgie with the promise of a circus down in the sewer, inch by inch, into his demise. Muschietti allows the scene to unfurl deliberately unrushed, making it all the more unsettling. More unsettling, however, is that someone witnesses what happens and seemingly just ignores it. There is a lot of that in “It”─adults turning a blind eye to the kinds of sickening violence that “it” has made commonplace in Derry.

Speaking of violence, something is definitely in the water in Derry. Perhaps the greatest horror comes not from the sewer-dwelling Pennywise, but the adults of Derry. “It” eloquently portrays the much more pedestrian, if you will, horrors of childhood. The adults in the film loom more monstrously than the evil clown–from Beverly’s serpentine, abusive father to Eddie’s manipulative mother, who feeds his hypochondria so she can control him, to the town bully’s policeman father who shoots a gun at his son’s feet, to the bullies themselves who think nothing of carving their name into the belly of a new kid they call “Tits,” in reference to his body size. “It” also seems to suggest that the absentee adults have left the kids, in this case the self-monikered Losers’ Club, to slay the monster.

“It”–it is a horror film after all–does deliver on the scares, too, but it is refreshingly less CGI-gore-fest and more “Stranger Things” in its style. Pennywise is the amalgamation of everyone’s worst fears, even if clowns don’t phase you. The Losers’ Club and “It” both tread through some gray water and come out on the other side (you will get the reference once you see the film).

Grade: A

Spooky Movie 2012, International Horror Film Festival in Washington, DC

My coverage of the 2012 International Horror Film Festival, Spooky Movie, in Washington DC

Spooky Movie 2012, an international horror film fest running from Oct.12-18th at the AFI Silver Theatre, is a veritable twilight zone of too ghoul for school films. This festival is the thinking horror fan’s Mystery Science Theatre—the films will have you racking your brain for days afterwards, for better or worse.

 In its seventh year of bringing mystery, mischief, and mayhem to audiences, The Spooky Movie Festival delivers impressively on the thrills and chills with 21 features and 31 shorts, including festival standouts “Chained,” “Resolution” and “Excision.” Festival Director Curtis Prather remarked upon how happy he was to have finally landed the festival in the home he had always wanted for it, the AFI in Silver Spring.

One of the breakout films of the festival was “Chained,” the third major feature film by David Lynch progeny Jennifer Lynch, made its U.S. debut on Friday. A tour-de-force ride into the mind of an uber-misogynistic serial killer, “Chained” is the story of Bob and Rabbit [Eamon Farren], the boy whose mother Bob kills and who becomes a servant, a student, and for lack of a better word, a son to him.
 Lynch initially wanted to title the film “Rabbit” to take the focus away from the depersonalizing surroundings of the character and focus on the psychological aspects at play. She described her movie as a “tough watch—a story about how real monsters are made.”

When Lynch first read the “Chained” script, she said it ran too much like “torture porn” (a charge that was often leveled at her for debut film “Boxing Helena” which she made when she was nineteen). Lynch wanted to make a film that ran less like a typical horror gore piece and delved more into “figuring out why he is doing this and the relationship between him and Rabbit.”

The film is shot in a cinema verite/documentary style, essentially showing the world through the claustrophobic lens of Rabbit’s existence. Lynch explained that she likes to make movies about “people obsessed with other people or characters that are forced into an environment they can’t leave. The claustrophobia factor really interests me.” With no soundtrack to the movie save for the creak of floorboards, the thud of footsteps, and the screams of Bob’s victims, “Chained” is mercifully low on the gruesome and ghastly Saw-like sensibilities that have invaded recent horror fare.

In explaining her film’s milieu, Lynch said, “terrible things in broad daylight are much scarier than things that go bump in the night.”As such, the “house gone wrong” that Bob and Rabbit live in is the perfect setting for the father-and-son-like relationship gone wrong that take place in it. Bob’s question “Oh, you are not my son!? Point to one thing in this house that doesn’t say that,” is especially trenchant on so many levels.
“Resolution,” directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead and selected for distribution by the Tribeca Studios, upends a number of horror movie tropes to create a strange amalgamation of buddy flick-meets-Lost. Mike (Peter Cilella) goes to an abandoned cabin in the woods (natch) in a last-ditch effort to get best friend Chris (Vinny Curan) to stop his downward descent down the crack pipe by literally chaining him to a pipe so he can detox for a week. That one week proves eventful as Mike starts finding various eerie antique objects in the house and encounters a series of strangers odd upon odder, including drug dealers, a space cult, and a French gentleman. The greatest aspect of the film is the interaction between Mike and Vinny, which yields comedic gold in its dramedic ways, but also provides a poignant portrait of a deep relationship weather-beaten by the buffeting of…life. Vinny Curan is especially compelling in his portrayal of an addict hell-bent on convincing everyone to leave him alone to his “destiny” which he perceives to be drugs, yet as the week progresses, allows for the possibility that he simply has given up on believing he can beat this. The horror story aspect of the film is almost an afterthought, although Mike’s increasing obsession with figuring out what is happening, eerily parallels Vince’s own addiction. Ironically enough, “Resolution” does not offer one at the end—the ambiguous at best ending will have audience scratching their heads for quite a while, but the film’s theme of “every story has a beginning, middle, and end,” hints at something along those lines.