Tag Archives: drama

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2017)

The Last Knock

It’s hard to believe that the oppressive creepfest, The Eyes of My Mother is the feature film debut of writer/director Nicholas Pesce. Using black-and-white digital photography to capture the mood, we follow Francisca (Kika Magalhaes and Olivia Bond) on her coming of age journey that goes horribly wrong. The Eyes of My Mother is a dramatic horror of unsettling proportions, and we’ll go behind the story to bring you the story…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@thenickpesce @evepaludan @kicksindamix @GuyRicketts @MagnetReleasing @MissDeAnnah @willbrill @cultmetalflix @ClaraJWong @MelanieMcCurdie @paulnazak @machinemeannow @RealJillyG @Barry_Cinematic @AmandaBergloff @palkodesigns @InnerGhosts @LianeMoonRaven @HellInSpace @NathanStrack @ThomasOtterman @Kent_Harper @FriscoKidTX @LoudGreenBird @dixiefairy @RonGizmo

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20th Anniversary by Billy Crash

 

Welcome to the Hellmouth

On March 10, 1997, creator, writer, and oftentimes director, Joss Whedon unleashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon the world in a television series that drew in fans from a multitude of demographics and a multitude of countries. The show featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a high school student forced into accepting her fate as vampire slayer in mythical Sunnydale, California.

With a kickass theme from Nerd Herder, and her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy kept her “Scooby Gang” close (Nicholas Brendon as Xander, Allyson Hannigan as Willow, and someone just as reluctant as Buffy, the “better than you” Cordelia Chase, played by Charisma Carpenter), as she tackled, drop-kicked, and staked vampires, destroyed demons, and more in an effort to thwart the Hellmouth and save the world.

Each week, we’d find something different than the average show at the time, and for a dramatic comedy/horror/fantasy/action series, Buffy had more drama in one episode than a month’s worth of “ER” or “Chicago Hope.” Unlike other television shows that entertained and faded away by morning, people just didn’t talk about the show at the office, they incorporated the “lexicon of Buffy” in their speech, much like many of “Twin Peaks” fans who know that you can trust the Bookhouse Boys, but “The owls are not what they seem.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a television show people talked about, but an event that changed how they talked.

Prophecy Girl

Beyond words, we had a vampire slayer who fell in love with not just one vampire, but two, while still kicking ass and never turning her back on her friends, the world, and the woman she was becoming. Other than “Xena the Warrior Princess,” it’s hard to think of another show that presented woman as strong, powerful, and self-assured, and who wouldn’t give a man the satisfaction of seeing her fail. Where men rescued women at nearly every turn throughout television history, Buffy saved every man, woman, and child she ran into. And even if she told others to run for safety, Buffy didn’t stand tall to play martyr or find sympathy or become a legendary figure, she just wanted to fight and win every damn time.

And with strong females at the center of the show, Joss introduced the love of two young women without exploitation or apology, and once again, the show only became stronger, more multi-faceted, and more ahead of the curve in social consciousness. If anything, on this front, Buffy brought us some of the most depth-ridden romances ever to appear on the small screen regardless of gender.

As Buffy grew, so did her Scooby Gang: Cordelia became a woman who respected others instead of laughing at them, Xander developed a spine, and little Willow Rosenberg became a witch of epic proportions. Others came into the gang, from vampire lovers Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters), as well as Tara (Amber Benson), Oz (Seth Green), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and baby sister Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg). Wait, Buffy had a sister?

New Moon Rising

I remember when Dawn appeared at the beginning of season five. Michelle Trachtenberg not only appeared in the opening credits as if she had been there forever, but Buffy and her mom (Kristine Sutherland) acted like she’d had a room in the house the whole damn time. A head scratcher for certain, and many of us didn’t know the key to this sudden introduction, but that’s what Joss Whedon always did: He kept the story fresh without jumping the shark, having a special wedding episode, or the worst damn thing imaginable, the birth of a child. Instead, we got Dawn, unexpected deaths, bad-grrl Faith (Eliza Dushku), Buffybot, a slew of evil adults from high school administrators to scientists at a secret base, and an endless flow of demonic forces with their own cruel agendas. Joss changed Buffy like a pro bono plastic surgeon: He improved the exterior but didn’t mess with the heart and soul.

At one point, Buffy stated, “My mother said my life is fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.” But the entire show bore fruit. “Angel” became one of the best spinoffs of all time, and people even gave the failed Buffy the Vampire Slayer film another chance, where Pee Wee Herman’s Paul Reubens crushed it as vampire kingpin, Amilyn, and Seth Green played a vampire – which makes him the only actor to appear in both the movie and the series. The stars went on to other projects on television or the silver screen, and twenty years later, Buffy continues to be recognized and appreciated by first generation fans to Millennials and Generation Z as if the season finale had taken place last week.

Once More, With Feeling

Some shows have survived the test of time: “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” and “Firefly” because they were “big damn heroes,” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues in that off-the-beaten path vein of absolute coolness. Yet, at the end of the day, Buffy hasn’t held up for twenty years simply because it’s cool, but it had something to say about youth, exploration, love, bureaucracy, judgment, parenting, friendship, goals, desires, humanity, and ultimately sacrifice. Even so, at its heart, at its very core, Buffy wasn’t afraid to venture into the darkest regions of the brightest characters or find blinding light within the abyss of demons. If Whedon taught us anything, it’s that there’s good and bad in everyone, and we all need to do our part to not only help bring that greatness to the surface, but to forgive those who falter at times, and give them love, respect, and a second chance.

Because when it’s your turn to save the world, you never know who’ll be fighting by your side. So hush…

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Buffy from Buffy Wikia.)

In My Skin by Bill Meeker

In a previous post, I wrote about Ozon’s See the Sea as an example of the cinéma du corps of the early New French Extremity. By contrast, a later film of this movement, In My Skin (Dans ma peau, 2002), is both more transgressive and more preoccupied with formal considerations. Written and directed by Marina de Van (who plays Tatiana in Ozon’s film), it focuses on the character of Esther (de Van), an ambitious young female professional whose psyche unravels after she receives a disfiguring wound in an accident at a work-related house party.

Wandering alone in the backyard of the recently renovated house, she trips over some building supplies and falls, tearing her pant leg. At first, unaware that she has injured herself, she returns to the house, where she gossips with her friend and co-worker Sandrine (Lea Drucker). It is not until she goes to the bathroom that she realizes that she has a bloody gash in her right lower leg. Even so, she leaves the party to go out for drinks with friends. Later that night, she goes to a hospital, where the on-call intern (Adrian de Van) asks her why she did not seek medical help after she realized that she had hurt herself. She replies that she did not feel any pain until much later. The intern then jokingly asks her, “Are you sure it’s your leg?”

Although she has everything that a young bourgeois Parisian woman could want, including a challenging career in business and a young, urban, professional boyfriend, Vincent (Laurent Lucas), a morbid fascination with her disfigured leg begins to distract her from work and other people. Soon she starts having spells in which she engages in destructive acts of self-mutilation. She begins with cutting the surgical sutures in her leg wound. For the spectator, the scenes in which Esther harms herself are difficult to watch. Her cutting and gouging moves from her leg to an arm, then to her entire body, including her face. Although Esther continues to try to pursue her career ambitions (snubbing Sandrine in the process) and her relationship with Vincent (who becomes increasingly upset by her bizarre behavior), the urge towards self-destruction becomes irresistible. Every social challenge in her life triggers an urge to engage in self-mutilation. The urge to hurt herself quickly takes over her life, interfering with both love and work and ultimately leading her to a paroxysm of self-harm while alone in a cheap hotel room.

Before her accident, Esther’s bourgeois existence hardens her to sensation and emotion, as shown by her initial inability to feel the pain of her leg wound. Bound within the structure of the Lacanian Symbolic, she has repressed her emotions (coded by patriarchy as feminine) so that she can have a chance at success in the “man’s world” of business. Thus, she creates a hard, protective, psychological shell comprised of ego defense mechanisms with which she insulates herself from authentic interpersonal relationships and their potential for emotional response. After the accident, the disintegration of this shell leads to the gradual fragmentation of her ego, as demonstrated by her decreasing ability to function in the world of the Symbolic. This event, with its irruption of the abject in the form of a bloody gash in Esther’s skin, stands for an intrusion of the Lacanian Real into her conscious life. Per Wright and Wright:

The Real is that which is both inside and outside the subject, resisting the Symbolic’s endeavours to contain it. In the imaginary mirror-play of illusion a consistency obtains which leaves no gaps for the Real to manifest itself. The Real shows only in the structured effects it produces in mundane reality, and has no existence from the perspective of the symbolic system, the big Other. The fantasy of the Lacanian objet a conceals the gap, itself proof of the Real that lies outside the illusion of consistency. (3)

Esther’s objet a is the knife, which generalizes to any tool with which she can cut herself. For Žižek, the objet a is the “sublime object of ideology”:

…at its simplest, it is that which we most ardently desire, imagining it to be in the possession of the Other. This object, beyond all else, is what is unconsciously believed will fill the void at the core of being. The void is the effect of the constitution of the subject in language out of the Real of the body with all its undirected drives, which language vainly tries to bring entirely within its laws. (3)

Esther’s original injury exposes the void within herself, namely the lack of fulfillment of her basic drives caused by repression of her capacity to feel in the service of trying to succeed in the Parisian bourgeois environment by conforming to its patriarchal capitalistic standards. Thus, each subsequent appearance of a knife-like object (her objet a) in the narrative leads Esther to engage in further physical self-harm in a bizarre attempt to reach the Real within her body (“in her skin”). Unfortunately, the lack she desperately desires to fill “arises from the ultimate incompatibility of the Symbolic and the Real” (5). Thus, the ultimate mental result of Esther’s self-mutilatory behaviors is psychosis.

De Van presents this psychological break in a scene in which Esther attends a high-stakes business dinner. Despite her efforts to impress a high-profile, female client who has accompanied the (male) senior partner in her firm, she cannot resist focusing on her dinner companions’ plates when they carve meat with their forks and knives. She has a delusional experience in which she believes that her left arm, from which she can feel no sensations, has taken on an independent existence. Eventually, she hallucinates this arm as amputated and lying on the table in full view of her business associates, who do not notice it.

She retrieves the arm, reattaches it to her body, then begins cutting it under the table with her steak knife. Her ability to participate in the Symbolic discourse of business rapidly deteriorates, creating an atmosphere of social awkwardness at the table. She decamps in a panic to the restaurant’s wine cellar, where she hides behind racks of wine bottles in a regressed state. There, she realizes the effects of her behavior on the world of the Symbolic when a wine steward discovers her bloody knife on the floor. Shocked out of her psychotic state, she returns to the dinner party, which has concluded. The senior partner is clearly furious with her.

In the closing sequence of In My Skin, de Van (as both writer-director and actress) signifies the “collapse of ideology” with the image of Esther’s complete mental breakdown and physical self-destruction under the stress of her pursuit of bourgeois socioeconomic values. Thanatos, the Freudian death drive, overcomes Eros, the life drive, through an overwhelming return of the repressed – in this case, all the emotions against which Esther had been so heavily defended (and which for Lacan represent the jouissance that is “prohibited in language” [Žižek, Wright, & Wright 12]) in her single-minded pursuit of a bourgeois lifestyle. Although this final sequence is open to interpretation, it appears to imply that her morbid obsession has caused her death.

In its cinematography, this sequence is also emblematic of the “high art” formal aesthetic within which de Van deploys her “low art” narrative. It begins with Esther awakening the morning in her cheap hotel room. After dressing, she admires a piece of her skin that she has tanned by treating with chemicals (on the advice of a bewildered pharmacist in a previous scene). It has hardened, shriveled and turned black. With a mixture of sadness and affection, she places it inside her bra and leaves the room. But then a subsequent shot, which begins with an extreme close-up of Esther’s face as she stares vacantly into the camera, tracks out to reveal that she is lying motionless on the bed. This shot repeats once before fading to black. In My Skin’s high-art cinematography is also evident in the use of a split screen in the sequence that depicts Esther’s final paroxysm of self-harm in a series of disorientingly paired close-ups. The use of this technique is foreshadowed by using this technique in the film’s opening credits, over which are shown a series of establishing shots as pairs of positive and negative color images.

The film’s avant-garde form also appears in the its sound design and musical score. The spectator is cued to the onset of Esther’s episodes of self-mutilation, triggered the appearance of her objet a, by extradiegetic sounds of heavy breathing and a shift to dissonance in the musical score. Žižek uses Chion’s concept of rendu to explain how such sounds can be “a way of representing reality distinct from the Imaginary and the Symbolic modes”.  Such a representation is achieved “typically through the sound-track, which now takes over as dominant indicator of the narrative reality, while the visual images become a secondary montage”. Thus, this inversion of sound and vision, an “arbitrary stylistic prohibition” on the part of the filmmaker, signifies a psychosis by “making uncannily palpable the tension between Real and Symbolic” (Žižek, Wright, & Wright 13).

Arthouse sound and visuals of an increasingly avant-garde nature, transgressive narratives with increasingly “extreme features: these changing characteristics show the rapid development of the cinéma du corps over the turn of the millennium. This movement would later spread to greater Europe and beyond, producing many more movies that test the spectator’s ability to tolerate the grotesque and abject while delighting the lover of innovation in filmmaking technique.

Works Cited

In My Skin (Dans Ma Peau). Dir. Marina De Van. Perf. Marina De Van and Laurent Lucas. Wellspring Media, 2003. DVD.

Wright, Elizabeth, and Edmond Wright. “Introduction.” The Žižek Reader. By Slavoj Žižek. Ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 1-8. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj, Elizabeth Wright, and Edmond Wright. “The Undergrowth of Enjoyment: How Popular Culture Can Serve as an Introduction to Lacan.” The Žižek Reader. Ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 11-36. Print.

(Photo of In My Skin writer, director, and star, Marina de Van from Blumhouse.)

Crash Palace Support Team

The man behind Loud Green Bird (LGB), “a website devoted to cinema and literature. LGB covers all genres but has a predilection for horror and science fiction. LGB also supports indie film by reviewing the work of indie filmmakers,” Bill Meeker teaches by day, and is a film television critical/cultural studies graduate student. Besides following LGB on Twitter, you can also find more of this driven cinephile at Frisco Kid TX and on Twitter.

 

Crash Analysis: JUG FACE (2013)

2013’s Best Horror

Killer premise, killer themes…

I’d given up on 2013. Other than the superior and atmospheric remake of MANIAC, the jug_face_ver2_xlgsurprisingly far better than expected DARK SKIES, and the coolness of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, the year was pretty bleak for horror. After all, the EVIL DEAD reboot lacked character, THE CONJURING was an over-rated cliché ridden tale, and MAMA was devoid of substance. Even worse, the mega-hit WORLD WAR Z was so family friendly, the zombies left their victims with glorified love bites. Aww…

Then, I received this DVD for preparation of my THE LAST KNOCK end of the year show with Jonny Numb. We hadn’t heard of Chad Crawford Kinkle’s JUG FACE, but as soon as the credits started to roll, we knew we had something special: Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Sean Bridgers made up the acting stronghold. More greatness came with Lucky McKee, director of MAY (2002) and THE WOMAN (2011), as producer. Most captivating was the music of Sean Spillane: a droning, alternative rhythm reminiscent of something Angelo Badalamenti might create if he had post punk rock sentimentality. The movie grew from there.

JUG FACE tells the story of Ada (Carter), a young woman growing up in a backwoods community in Tennessee. But her life’s in danger due to the trappings of an otherworldly pit, and she must escape.

Normally, when one hears “backwoods” and “Tennessee,” assumptions of crazed and stupid rednecks may arise, but Kinkle avoids the tropes and pitfalls of such ludicrous over-generalization. Sustin (Fessenden) is not only Ada’s attentive father, but a sensitive community leader. And those in the village seem to respect each other in a mutual manner. Due to his pottery making talents, the slow Dawai (Bridgers), who may have a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, is left to his own devices.

The pit, however, sits at the heart of the community, and it is the uncanny force that holds sway over all who reside in the village. A feminine vessel, the pit is vagina-like in its red clay and blood enriched bottom. The mother from the bowels of the earth that gives birth and takes life. A mother to be feared and respected, but never really loved.

The role of the feminine in JUG FACE is quite strong. Yes, the community has a traditional male leader, and even Ada’s mother, Loriss (Young) advises her daughter to follow her man. But Loriss maintains a strong, matter-of-fact presence in the community, and treats her children as if she is the supreme ruler of their collective domain. Ada, however, incorporates many of the same trappings of her mother: independence and not one to bow down, though Ada is more passive-aggressive. The difference between mother and daughter is this: Where Loriss has a strong sense of community, Ada is selfish. Thus begins the young woman’s journey in JUG FACE.

Chris Heinrich’s exemplary cinematography enhances the world created by production designer Kelly Anne Ross. One of the most profound images is that of jug maker Dawai in his shack. The place is bare bones and dark, yet light comes through the walls from little holes. The rays shine down on Dawai as he crafts, as if he’s receiving word from a god in a sparkling Universe. In this case, a female deity no doubt since he produces clay jugs, another feminine vessel. But he doesn’t just create jugs to haul moonshine. At times, he may be called to the pit to extract its red clay to prepare a “jug face,” which will undoubtedly change the face of the village.

As Dawai, Bridgers is absolutely remarkable, which is in direct contrast to his role as the psychopath father in THE WOMAN. Bridgers loses himself in the role as a Zen-like figure with an emotional attachment that ultimately effects the lives of others. Fessenden, Young, and Carter also immerse themselves into their respective roles, which leaves us with a wonderful, dramatic horror whose imagery creates depth and substance.

Kinkle moves JUG FACE along at a steady and revealing pace with rhythmic precision. Better still, he makes one care for characters that we never really get a chance to know, which is a feat unto itself. Quite often, background characters are so forgettable they are like redshirts in a STAR TREK movie, but not with Kinkle at the helm.

JUG FACE is loaded with surprises, and there is much to be amazed by as the mystery unravels. The only problem with the film, if there is one, is the notion of “the shunned,” which could have been incorporated in a less supernatural manner. The film was creepy enough with a stationary pit having so much power over its “herd.”

Regardless, JUG FACE resonates, and one can only imagine what the first-time director will bring us next. Therefore, don’t fall victim to the over-hype for the mundane. Take the road never before traveled and indulge in a unique horror tale that will follow you for days.

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)