Crash Analysis Support Team: Gays in Horror (Part I) – Guest Post from David McDonald

Victim_1961_posterWhen I was offered the opportunity to write on the topic of LGBT in horror — especially by a true aficionado with a formidable reputation for high standards of the genre, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance. I plan to share my insights, and hope that you’ll do the same, since this will be a new adventure for me as I broaden my horror palate, so to speak.

You see, as fond as I am of horror, I am woefully untutored when it comes to the horror cinema world in general. Oh, sure, I’ve seen some of the “greats,” like Night of the Living Dead, most of the Halloween franchise, not to mention extraordinary hybrids like Alien and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, speaking of hybrids, you may agree that horror finds its way into many other genres, and for good reason: its basic element is fear, one of the most fundamental — if not THE most fundamental — of human experiences. I ask you, good readers, to bear in mind this reference to hybrids for later on.

First, though, please allow me a tribute to someone whom I truly admire. With respect to the broader presentation of gays in cinema (horror included) I defer to the late, great Vito Russo, whose tome “The Celluloid Closet” (and the subsequent film of the same name) remains the unparalleled authority on the subject. If you have not yet read (or seen) it, I highly recommend you do so at once.

So, my first task as a novice in horror in general — and gay horror in particular — was where to begin? Google, naturally, which — naturally — listed two sites prominently: Wikipedia and IMDB; the former had 124 hyperlinks, the latter had 100 entries with dates, which affords some perspective over time, especially as it relates to the impact of gay persons in an evolving society. So from that list of 100 I culled what I believe is a good — meaning fair — sampling of LGBT themes in horror. The first thing I noticed that with scouring for films dating from 1936 to 2014, there were very few until the 1980s: Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Rope (1948); and The Creeper (1977).

Technically, Rope — an adaptation of the 1929 play of the same name — is not so much straight-up horror as suspense, something director Alfred Hitchcock was known for; but it also explores the banality of evil (also a Hitchcock watermark) even among the overbred like the rich-kid antiheroes, Brandon and Phillip, styled after the true-life murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. As these two were lovers in real life, it’s not surprising that the Hayes Office allowed the hints at the nature of their relationship to underscore queers as cold-blooded villains, a phenomenon that wasn’t honed to perfection until the 1970s, a good example being the two scenes involving LGBT criminals in Freebie and the Bean (1974).

My point is that horror isn’t limited to the supernatural or blood-soaked in chaotic mayhem. Horror is often clean and shiny, all around us, in the shadows of human experience, just as quiet but invaluable acts goodness and charity shine in the daylight yet little regarded.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more expertly explored as in Britain’s 1961 landmark drama/horror hybrid, Victim, in which a gay, highly placed government official decides to expose a blackmail ring against homosexuals (the first time “that word” was used on film) at the risk of destroying not only his own career, but his standing in society. The pursuit and persecution of “Boy Barrett” in the first part of the film is nothing less than terrifying and poignant. And more horrific yet, in its own way, is a subplot (and red herring) that involves a pair of male lover extortionists. Interestingly, the audiences polled at the initial screenings were horrified that the pair of blackmailers (a homophobic, priggish woman and her smug, mercenary male partner) were presented in such a negative light. Despite this, the film is unflinching in presenting a balanced view of attitudes and biases, both on behalf of gays and straights, within the context of that era.

In the final analysis, clearly neither the filmmakers of Victim nor its actors who took on these controversial parts had any intentions of shying away from exposing the  horror that was commonplace in everyday British life. It’s important to bear in mind that in the UK in 1961, sex between consenting adult males was a criminal offense, punishable by two years in prison. Victim is felt to be instrumental in eventually changing the laws for the better: homosexuality “downgraded” to a mental illness in the UK, and finally decriminalized altogether in 1967.

So while Victim is a landmark film in terms of social justice, more to the point it also breaks ground in terms of mundane evil, horror of a very special, folksy variety, full of sunshine, but horror nonetheless.

Now, in future I will discuss the topic of LGBT persons in the more conventional presentations (in film terms) of horror: blood and guts, bumps in the night, werewolves and vampires; there are a plethora of films that include LGBT persons.

See you next time!

David was born in Baltimore into a military family and moved across the United States throughout most of his childhood. He received a BA in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College and has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has written critiques for prose and film for various publications while writing screenplays, four of which have placed in competitions, his last being the psychological thriller, “Little Girl Found,” a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival. He has worked as a producer on three films with a fourth in the works, including his own short screenplay “Gambit.” Meanwhile he is finishing the first in a series of male-on-male vampire fiction entitled “Shared Blood,” due to be published early Summer 2015. You can follow him on Twitter: @deepfocusllc and on his website at: http://davidemcdonald.com

(Photo from Wikipedia.)

 

 

Crash Discussion: Horror Anthologies

Anthologies havThe Last Knocke brought horror fans great story collections over the decades, and we take a look at the best and maybe little known. Engage those tales that made the genre all the more potent with TRICK ‘R TREAT, BLACK SABBATH, THEATRE BIZARRE, CREEPSHOW and many more.

Feel free to leave comments of your favorites and the page, and please don’t forget to leave a starred review on iTunes to help THE LAST KNOCK grow.

 

Crash Analysis Support Team: IT FOLLOWS (2014) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

it-follows-movie-poster-uk[100 minutes. R. Director: David Robert Mitchell]

Horror films that expose the cracks in the suburban façade can be especially compelling when said facades are presented with a hint of accuracy. In BLUE VELVET (among many others), small-town America is a deceptive mask unto itself, where horror crawls beneath the surface, looking for any possible chance to break out. David Robert Mitchell’s absurd yet compelling IT FOLLOWS looks to minimalist means to convey “the banality of evil,” but its decision to focus on familiar suburban locales lends it an additional sheen of unease.

Rising genre ingénue Maika Monroe (THE GUEST) plays Jan, a suburban girl with feelings for rugged bad boy Hugh (Joshua Jackson doppelganger Jake Weary). A synth-heavy score captures the awkwardness of their date at the very beginning: it could be the start of any quirky romantic comedy-drama, if only the colors weren’t desaturated and the sky wasn’t perpetually overcast. By engaging in a seemingly innocent, time-killing waiting game, Mitchell sets the tone for what’s to come: Jan suggests to Hugh that they each pick out a person in the theater whom they’d rather be, and have the other guess whom it might be. This sets up the notion of identity as its own transferable quantity, which is useful because, after the couple has (consensual) sex, Hugh reveals to Jan that he’s just passed along a sinister supernatural force.

That’s right: we’ve gone from STD as parasite (SHIVERS) to STD as Resident Demon.

IT FOLLOWS is a possession flick in a manner similar to THE SIXTH SENSE (wherein the individual who can see what others cannot is, for all intents and purposes, “cursed”). The manner in which Mitchell repurposes the tired horror relationship between sex and death contains trace elements of David Cronenberg’s notions of virology and mutation (particularly, sex as a process both organic and inorganic); only here, the invading force is supernatural, and thrives on the eroding sanity of its victims. When our “Scooby Doo”-styled collective of teen snoops investigates the rooms of a run-down house, the icy, clinical detachment with which a stash of porno magazines and wadded-up tissues is presented appropriately skirts any prurient interest. (By this point in the film, sex has become the equivalent of a high-school health-class scare film, in more ways than one.)

Mitchell also scores a coup in making his teenage characters likable. They sit in living rooms, watch bad B movies, play cards, and work at ice-cream shops. After Jan’s brush with fate, conversations about sex fall within the same context the Van Helsing character would talk of banishing a curse (also refreshing: there is no real Van Helsing character here). There are intriguing and queasy passages wherein Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) seek intimacy with Jan, for reasons both ambiguous (a sense of self-sacrifice and respect) and obvious (a chance to get laid). With promiscuity (not abstinence) being the key to survival, the film could’ve easily spiraled into poor taste; instead, it is presented with a morality that is rare in the genre (indeed, keeping ahead of what “follows” is its own tricky game). Is what transpires in the end a testament of true love, or a way of staving off the inevitable?

As with the shots of unassuming suburban exteriors and ramshackle urban houses, the aesthetic technique rarely goes into flashy territory. With DP Mike Gioulakis, Mitchell utilizes dim lighting schemes to underscore seemingly bland scenes (Jan sitting in an English lecture, for instance) that also draws attention to an unavoidable, encroaching darkness. In establishing the lurking presence, there is a compelling mix of long shots that provide the isolating impression of someone (or something) lying in wait. The use of slow pans (sometimes 360s) to fully establish a landscape is sometimes used to inform the viewer of a danger our characters don’t see, or, just as impressively, as a rabbit-hole fake-out. The same can be said for the chilling dolly shots (sometimes a character’s POV, sometimes not), which barrel forward with the same kind of unrelenting force Sam Raimi wielded so well in the EVIL DEAD films.

For all IT FOLLOWS does right, there are times when it drops the ball: during a beach scene, the blocking feels too stiff and obvious, even if its intent is the lead-up to an unconventional surprise. Problematically, that surprise is almost rendered silly by some green-screened choreography. And, further still, the falling action of this scene uses a cheesy J-Horror cliché as a throwaway jump scare. (Actually, I suppose that scene is my biggest complaint about the whole movie.) There are also times when Disasterpeace’s otherwise excellent 8-bit score does its job too well, piling on the ominous cues in the lead-up to certain scares.

But for horror fans, the good outweighs the bad. The characters are believably portrayed (Monroe could very well be the next Chloe Sevigny), and their situation is easily relatable. There is also an admirable dismissal of all the “you can’t be serious” clichés that too often hamstring this type of conceptually tricky story. Adherents of the genre will enjoy spotting the surface-level nods to films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and HALLOWEEN, among others. Mitchell also utilizes a swimming pool with as much brooding menace as Jacques Tourneur and Paul Schrader ever did. And Disasterpeace’s music continues the exciting trend of composers moving further away from majestic orchestral scores, offering something primitive, flawed, and altogether appropriate.

3.5 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 at @JonnyNumb and Letterboxd – username Jonny Numb. And, of course, he is the co-host of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes.

(Photo from Movie Guy Ty.)

Crash Discussion: Sex and Horror

The Last KnockWhether a virgin or a player, cinema has indulged in a marriage of sex and horror from the beginning. Consider us your sex therapists for the evening as we penetrate deep into the gore-spot and explore such films as FRIDAY THE 13TH, CHERRY FALLS, LITTLE DEATHS, and much more of your dirty little favorites – and how sexual themes used in horror, as well as their thematic significance.

Feel free to leave a comment on this page, and we’d love a starred review on iTunes.

Crash Analysis Support Team: The Elements of (Horror) Style Part II – Guest Post from Randy Brzoska

mansun-e1374063696687PART II: Some Key Assumptions

“Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”—The Silence of the Lambs

So here it is late march and I’ve been sketching out ideas and topics I want to discuss in this series, and yet each time I sat down to write a piece I found myself with something of a conundrum: where to begin? With all of this material and all of these topics, what in the hell do I start with?

I think in this case, as with any other philosophical inquiry, it’s best to establish a set of assumptions we’ll carry forward, answer some elemental questions. What is the essence of horror? What are the scenarios, generally speaking, that horror media present pretty much every time, universally? Here are three things that I think answer these questions pretty well and we’ll use them as the building blocks of our discourse as we go further.

  1. Horror’s primary focus is on the human in conflict with the inhuman. Pretty simple, right? I shouldn’t have to define what I mean by ‘human’ here. But ‘the inhuman’ bears a little explanation. We can define the inhuman as anything that stands in contrast to our anthropocentric worldview and the notion that we are rational and civilized and that we are the primary lifeform in the universe and have a right to/are entitled to exist here. This is a broad panoply to pull from. Some examples? Nature (JAWS), forces of nihilism and cosmic indifference (ALIEN…also falls under ‘nature’), irrationality (psychological breakdown or encounters with things that should not exist, yet, in horror media, do: for example, the living dead), and the unknown or unknowable. I can already hear some of you out there saying, “But…but, wait! What about serial killers? And CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST? And…” To which I say, “Yes, yes, those too.” Bear with me. Yes, we’ll include under the inhuman man’s-inhumanity-to-man and the uncanny human, which may seem paradoxical. But as we’ll see, horror is nothing if not comfortable with paradox.[i]
  1. These conflicts with the inhuman are presented as a threat of annihilation of the sovereign self. A lot of people tend to think of horror movies as portrayals of confrontations with death and dying, but this only part of the equation and for good reason. Not everyone is necessarily afraid to die. In fact, horror movies have more to do with loss of identity than they do with dying. Meaning they are about what we superficially think we are vs. what we suspect or believe we are at our core. As such, horror media are essentially existential in nature and will often be discussed here as existential constructs. For example, it’s not enough in a horror movie to simply show death. Lots of people die in dramas, thrillers, and Lifetime Movie Channel weepers. Death alone does not a horror movie make. No, in horror media characters have to die a horrible, meaningless, painful death, preferably without any dignity whatsoever at the hands of the inhuman. As viewers, we must subsequently reckon with the notion that our individual lives might as well be inconsequential and pointless, which challenges how we typically perceive ourselves. Further, horror characters often face fates that are worse, or at least more problematic, than death. They may endure psychological disintegration, see their values implode in catastrophic moral collapse, or find themselves transforming into the other. In fact, death is the least of it for a victim in a horror movie. Death is a release, a means to an end. What creates the horror in horror media, rather, is A) depicting attacks on human identity via the inhuman; B) portraying human helplessness to do anything about it while C) maintaining the victim’s (and the audience’s) awareness of what’s going on for as long as possible. Horror, then, comes from the knowing, not from the end.[ii] As Tom Ligotti puts it: “Officially there are no fates worse than death. Unofficially, there is a profusion of such fates. For some people, just living with the thought that they will die is a fate worse than death itself.” [iii]
  1. Horror movies are about the fear of being afraid. I’ll agree with Noel Carroll here regarding what he calls “the meta-fear of fear.” From Carroll himself:

….horror fictions, especially audio-visual ones, allow us to test our own fear factor. Its power over the viewer—at least to the extent that that power rests upon the fact that our emotional dispositions are frighteningly obscure for being untried—can be reduced by giving our fear a reassuring trial run.[iv]

What this means is that horror movies are never about the direct confrontation of our deepest fears. Rather, we are saved from that fact by representations, unreal avatars and embodiments of those fears. In short, we accept them only because they are unreal. Even the most ‘realistic’ horror movies—those that effect a grim and gritty plausibility, like, for example, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF SERIAL KILLER, MEN BEHIND THE SUN, or MAN BITES DOG—are made palatable by the shimmering veneer of fiction that stands between the film and the audience. This affords us the luxury to play at being afraid and allows us access to the cathartic qualities of narrative. Without which we risk becoming complicit and ghoulish voyeurs.[v]

So there you have it: the three central ideas that’ll crop up again and again and again in this series—the inhuman, identity annihilation/existential constructs, and the fear of fear. You may disagree. Nothing wrong with that. But if you do disagree or have something to add, please let me know in the comments or find on Twitter via @RSBrzoska.

Next month on Elements of (Horror) Style : Subtext.

                                                                                                                                                                           

[i] Don’t believe me? Think about things common in horror like the living dead or the supernatural and get back to me.

[ii]Think of movies like The Fly (1986) or Poltergeist (1982), neither of which contain a lot of death, but yet are still scary as fuck and undoubtedly horror. In The Fly, the horror comes from Seth Brundle’s terrible transformation and the awful fact that we know and he knows—he knows!—exactly what is happening as he falls apart and becomes Brundle-fly. In Poltergeist the family home and parental identity are attacked by the inhuman. The household, central to family identity, is assaulted, the home itself eventually destroyed. By some miracle nobody dies.

[iii] Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2010

[iv] Carroll, Noel. “The Fear of Fear Itself: The Philosophy of Halloween,” in The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless, ed. Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 2006), 233

[v] This applies as well to sites like Live Leak and Best Gore and the like, which, while much more extreme and direct than movies, still afford the viewer some remove from the subject matter. Now, these sites and their ilk create all sorts of ethical quandaries, but that’s for another essay. What I will say here is that these sites are often derided as attracting teenage mouth-breathers, violence fetishists, and sociopaths. However, I’d bet for a fair number of the viewers (pure speculation here) have an inchoate impulse that if articulated might look something like: “The world is a terrifying and bewildering place and I need a way to fucking quantify that because deep inside I’m scared shitless and seeing what’s out there helps me rationalize why I feel this way but I’d never say that out loud because I’m not a pussy. Fuck!” In this regard, these sites do offer a crude but problematic sort of catharsis.

(MEN BEHIND THE SUN photo from Listserv.)

Follow Randy Brzoska at @RSBrzoska on Twitter

Crash Discussion: Interview with Brian Stiver

The Last Knock

Indulge in this great interview with special effects artist, Brian Stiver, who not only worked on LAKE PLACID and JURASSIC PARK III, among others, but has excellent stories about special effects icons Stan Winston, Rick Baker, and make-up master Dick Smith. And if that isn’t cool enough, wait until you hear about Jim Carrey, Ron Howard, and even Steven Spielberg.

 

Crash Analysis: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

GirlNightThroat

Without a doubt, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is the most beautiful horror film ever made.            

Lyle Vincent is the cinematographer of note who helped bring Ana Lily Amirpour’s amazing film to light. Written and directed by, Amirpour, her Persian language horror was shot in Taft, California with actors of Iranian descent.

Every actor, from Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi, to Dominic Rains and Milad Eghbali, a young boy in his first film, delivered excellent performances. With the direction, cinematography, eclectic music, acting, and well-written dialogue, as well as the pace, this is the best horror film from 2014, as well as one of the greatest of all time.

Arash (Marandi) is a young man with a hot American car wandering the streets of “Bad City.” His father’s a junkie, the pimp wants his car, a street urchin wants his leftovers, and it’s clear Arash wants out. But a girl (Vand) walks through the neighborhood leaving bodies in her wake who may prevent Arash from breaking out on his own.

Right from the beginning, we know two things thanks to Amirpour’s storytelling and use of theme: This isn’t a normal place, and the choice of shooting in black-and-white isn’t simply to save money. Normalcy is thrown to the wayside when we see Arash walk over a bridge. Underneath is a ravine populated by many a dead body. He doesn’t care, and apparently no one else does either. The use of black-and-white not only captures the grayness, the starkness of what we only know as “Bad City”, but the compositions: Vincent’s exploitation of light, dark, and shadow, create not only a sensual noir feel, but like the characters, we are relegated to purgatory. A place where light cannot stand on its own and neither can its opposite. It’s a blatant Yin Yang world, and if one wants to tip the well-balanced scales, they can’t make it happen from within the city’s borders.

Each character is damaged and far from perfect, caught in the netherworld between good and evil. Atti (Mozhan Marnó) is a prostitute abused by her pimp (Rains) and the customers who desire her, yet she’s also quick to react negatively with strangers and her body language reeks of apathy, even though she’s looking for respect. Atti doesn’t enjoy her lifestyle, yet, like every other character in the film, she is trapped and cannot escape. In this case, the players are not physically prevented from leaving Bad City but their complacency keeps them where they struggle. Maybe they won’t leave because some other place could be worse, or because they may be tantalized by the wonderful things the dark may sometimes offer, or maybe they just don’t think they’re worth it. Either way, the presence of The Girl may prevent them from choosing.

Every frame of this film is a piece of art, and A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT should be shown in a gallery instead of a sterile, commercial theatre. The music is the perfect topping for every scene, whether it’s traditional Iranian or “Death” from White Lies. Amirpour has created a strong horror that has grit and beauty, and a feminine edge without placating to tropes, cliché, or expectation.

Oddly enough, Amirpour culled the most amazing performance from Musaka the cat, the greatest ever captured on film from a feline.

Watching A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT may have one thinking of early David Lynch, or even Marco Bellocchio’s drama FISTS IN THE POCKET, or a more grown up version of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Regardless, Amirpour has delivered an intelligent, riveting, and existential experience that is not esoteric. It’s arthouse without the pretension or malaise. Her feature is smart, compelling, and conjures emotion, and maybe this is why Elijah Wood chose to help produce the feature.

In every shot there is a sense of danger, an element of foreboding that should capture the imagination of the most ardent horror fan, as well as those who care little for the genre.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT will linger in your mind, swim through your dreams, and will have you questioning why more horror films don’t come with so much substance and value.

4.5 stars out of 5

(Photo from Btchflcks.)

Crash Discussion: Highway of Horror

The Last KnockTake a ride with us as we floor it and find out why horror and cars go so well together. Whether it’s CHRISTINE or DEAD END, and HITCHER or BLOOD CAR, there’s a gas guzzlin’ monster for everyone. Get it in gear – and don’t check the rearview – just drive with us and embrace the carnage.

Crash Discussion: Witches of Distinction

The Last KnockThe witch has been at the center of worldwide folklore for thousands of years. At times revered, and other times feared, the witch is the prime subject of many a horror, from 1922’s HAXAN to 2014’s THE WITCH. We not only look at witches throughout horror cinema, but the politics and realities of witch hunting. We’ll also look at SUSPIRIA, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, PUMPKINHEAD, BABA YAGA, LORDS OF SALEM, BLACK DEATH, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and many more.

Crash Discussion: STARRY EYES

The Last KnockThe new horror film from writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, STARRY EYES has been hyped up quite a bit – but is it as good as some say it is? We take a look at the film from all starry-eyed angles, including performances from Alex Essoe, Noah Segan, Pat Healy, Louis, Dezseran, and the always amazing Maria Olsen. What did you think of the film? Let us know at Crash Palace.