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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Body horror" and dualism

I promise this post discusses horror films. Please be patient with the exposition.


Think about your body. There. We've already proven the point I'm intending to make. You thought "my body." My body.

Let's draw out what makes this phrase suspect. If you are a religious person, you may believe in the soul, a god-given ego. If you are "of a secular mind," you may believe in the mind, another suspicious term. The idea of a dualism between mind and body is old and well-trodden. Philosophers of mind who wish to do away with the notion of the mind attempt to reduce it to functions of the brain. Others endorse the mind and rebuff reductionistic treatments of its mystery.

Regardless of what you believe about the mind or the soul (henceforth called the ego), our culture has 99.9% given in to dualism.

We are divorced from our bodies, and it is evident in our language and behavior. Myriad examples reveal this. We think of our bodies as the chariots of our egos. What is sickness? It is an affliction of our vessel. The naming of disease helps this process by creating distance from which we can address our afflictions. Sometimes the body grows in a self-destructive way. We have a phrase for this: getting cancer. We draw a sharp distinction between ourselves and the part of ourselves that we recognize as a threat. We can easily excise bits of ourselves when they don't suit the project of continually housing the ego in the body.

Perspectives on pregnancy fit this framework. Pro-choice interprets a pregnancy as an outside influence on the mother's body. Abortion is a cure for being afflicted with pregnancy. Pro-life is no different, where the fetus is a visitor to the mother's body to be safeguarded. The fetus is a stranger, something not an extension of, but different from, the body of the mother. Neither perspective is truly a bodily perspective; both are plays at forcing the body to submit to the ego.

Skin versus Flesh

I cannot speak to your experience, but "skin" is a very different word to me than "flesh." Skin has so many uses and meanings, while flesh is a charged word that evokes a sense of revulsion in me.

The colloquial phrase "pleasures of the flesh" speaks to bodily experience and all methods of living through the body, often by way of consuming other bodies. Eating, whether it be plant or animal flesh, is the assimilation of flesh from one body to another, lived entirely in the first person, not with the third-person detachment of the ego. Nonliterally (but still quite literally), sexual intercourse is much the same, as another consumption of flesh, a bodily pleasure derived from assimilation.

But there is another aspect of sexuality, the inability to live it bodily. This is the sexual fetish, which reduces flesh to skin. Skin is a surface, a mental object. Some skin is flesh, to be sure, but other skin no more material than the clothing or makeup it bears. Flesh is the object of bodily experience, but skin is the object of mental desire.

Fetishizing the skin is an intrusion into the bodily experience of the flesh. The sexual fetish makes the partner the object of mental desire, an object cast in skin. The ego then sets about to manipulate the partner's body like a tool, contorting, restricting, and adorning it to satisfy aesthetic requirements, binding or covering the body to modify its shape, or enlarging (perceptually) the foot or the breast.

Bodies are already skin before our egos, though. Modifying our skin, we can change anything outward about ourselves. But flesh refers to something inward.

Filmed Bodies

How does film treat our bodies? Usually, film treats the body as a skin. As a visual medium, it may be impossible to treat the flesh. Any filmed scene is essentially a fetishized experience of the body. There is nothing fleshly about pornography. Filming pornography is another mode of recrafting the body to make it satisfying to the ego. The fleshly encounter of authentic violence, of actual moving through another's flesh, is reduced to an aesthetic skin in film; the idea of the body is recrafted by the knife or the bullet. Hordes of skin-bodies are remade as aesthetic objects in any action flick, cut down in waves to satisfy the demand of the viewer that they visually transition from "alive" to "dead," whatever those terms mean. There is something pornographic to this.

Body Horror

What does "body horror" do in this framework? Body horror is understood as fiction dealing with deformed and deforming bodies. David Cronenberg is the director most closely identified with this subgenre.

Following my exposition above, I require that authentic "body horror" portray the deformation of the body in question sympathetically. That is to say, I include, for example, Cronenberg's The Fly but not Carpenter's The Thing, because the Thing's malformed flesh is always inhuman, only resembling the human figure.

I suggest that body horror offers a special interaction with the dualism of ego and body, specifically that it at once recovers a sense of the flesh while simultaneously obscuring it.

Cronenberg's 1979 film The Brood is an example of the recovery of flesh in body horror. In the film, a woman's negative emotions manifest as asexually produced mutant children who channel her rage into violent acts. The film rejects dualism by showing a direct relationship between emotion and body, so that her rage is not lived mentally, but bodily. Furthermore, these children are not "children" in a conventional sense, understood as sovereign entities. Rather, they are the flesh of the mother (with no father to muddle the equation), extensions of her flesh, and she lives through them in part, just as much as she lives through her hands.

For the audience to experience a recovery of the flesh, the film has to circumvent the expectations of the audience. In a conventional horror film murder, the surface of the body conforms to the trauma like a tool purposed to receive the blow. Body horror goes further, peeling back the skin to expose the flesh. What lies beneath the skin represents chaos. We cannot predict what we cannot see, so in a sense, the flesh is illogical. That is what is unsettling. It is the simultaneous allure and revulsion of the flesh. The complexity of taste is, in all honesty, a mystery. At best, taste is familiar, but always unique. Looking at the flesh beneath the skin of a film character is uncomfortable, because for all we recognize, respond to, and perhaps even desire of the skin, the chaos of the flesh is hidden. Until it isn't.

Experiencing revulsion in watching flesh exposed in a Cronenberg film is a recovery of the understanding of flesh. The revulsion is not bound to the ego. It is an empathetic bodily reaction to another's bodily experience. You don't think your reaction to such a scene. You feel it.

But through body horror the audience also loses the sense of the flesh in the moment following the initial revulsion. Almost immediately, the exposed flesh becomes the new skin. We're back in the world of surfaces, where the malformed body is an affliction on the vessel of the ego. When the audience has the opportunity to react to the transformation as a new state of the body, it is reduced to just that, a state that the body is in, as temporary as any skin.

Pasolini's 1975 film Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a transplanting of de Sade's writings into fascist Italy, expresses the vantage of the ego, embodied by the fascist tormentors, who experience their captives as malleable fetish objects. The film also portrays the vantage of the body through the victims. As the victims are systematically reduced to objects by their tormentors, their suffering is increasingly lived bodily as resignation to the minimal level of survival sets in. Pasolini lets the audience experience both. When you sympathize with the victims, you feel that experience, and if you give this ugly film enough respect to actually think about why the antagonists commit these acts, you feel that experience too.

To paraphrase Martin Heidegger, the hammer appears as a tool for the possibility of hammering, and only when it is broken does it reveal itself as a real object of metal and wood. Showing the human body in chaotic disrepair recovers a sense of what we really are and how we live through these selves. But at the same time, we react by problematizing our bodies as objects to be repaired or otherwise overcome.


What of the real-life relationship between flesh and skin? Flesh-desire intersects with skin-desire to shape the fit between the ego and body. To satisfy these intersecting desires, the ego crafts the solution. The bodily desire to create is met when the ego sets towards art, or perhaps child-rearing. The bodily desire of lust is met when the ego and body conspire to come as close as possible to the object of attraction, stopping just short of becoming it, knowing it fully. Two examples from horror come to mind, where the ego composes a practical solution to the bodily desire for transformation: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Leatherface and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill don guises crafted from human skin, a material that is simultaneously flesh and skin.

What then of dualism? I now feel that ego and body define two realms of behavior/experience, somewhat distinct, but entirely inseparable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Strangers: please let me revise it

Spoilers. Seriously.

When I first viewed The Strangers, I was psyched like I don't remember being for a contemporary horror movie. This was because of the promotion. I love the poster, which manages to evoke suspense in the print medium. I'm a huge fan of tasteful, restrained promotion in horror. Though I haven't seen the film, this trailer for Hostel: Part 2 nails it.

And this one for The Shining... well, I've watched it dozens of times. I think the music in this trailer is relevant to the track "Kubrick" off of John Scofield's album A Go Go.

As for the film itself, The Strangers didn't disappoint, until the ending. As I've suggested before, I think the last few minutes are superfluous to an already taught, intense, and appropriately brief film. Consider the difference between ending on "because you were home," versus ending on Liv Tyler's bloodcurdling shriek that recalls the obligatory closing shock you can find in so many films. With obligatory closing shock, you jump and scream, and as you catch your breath, you start to laugh, because OCS has no context; it's a practical joke on the audience, and once you've been had, you laugh it off. I think that after all we've been through, The Strangers deserves to be scarier than that. Recall the line "because you were home." When that line is delivered, your heart should be about in your gut, sick and helpless.

Now let's try a new ending. The same musical tone sustains under the last scene as Tyler asks, "why are you doing this?" The music sharpens to a hiss and pinches off with a whisper as the intruder replies, "because you were home." Black screen. Credits.

You say "ugh" as you stand up from your seat.

Here's what I love about this film:

I can imagine the rest of the film arising from the scene where the intruders turn on the record player to disguise their location in the house. The director asks himself, "what else can I do with sound in this film?" and the movie delivers dissertation on the sound of suspense.

First, silence. In Psycho, the infamous Mother theme begins after the appearance of the mother in the shower scene. Curtain, cue music, start stabbing. Then for Mother's next appearance at the top of the stairs, the music begins slightly before she steps into the hall, throwing the viewer into a panic because the suspense of Arbogast mounting the stairs is still not resolved, since Mother has not actually appeared yet. The delicate moment that happens between the music and the appearance of Mother shows that the threat and the different and deserve special attention. When the male intruder first appears in the long shot in The Strangers, it recalls the appearance of the black shape coming closer to the curtain in Psycho. I'm sure that most contemporary directors would have added an audio cue to that figure stepping into the living room, like a low bass rumble or a single screech of strings, but Bertino recognizes that it's essential to let the audience find him themselves and let the shock really hit.

Now the sound. Bertino does his best to score his film with natural sounds, rather than audio cues. The jumpy scenes depend on a lot of loud banging is terribly effective, and doesn't remind the audience that they're in a theater the way incidental music does. The incorporation of the record player is inspired. For a film that relies so heavily on sound, turning on the record player is the equivalent of turning out the lights. And when the record begins to skip, the repitition of that musical phrase disguises the actual passing of time, trapping the characters and the audience in the disorientation of having each moment resemble the last because the sound is so intrusive that it becomes impossible to focus on how close the killers are getting.

Watch this movie again, in headphones if you can, and just for fun, stop the film at the right moment and see how you feel. Absorb the moment before returning to the movie and letting the real ending roll.

Endings: strong, weak, or immaterial

There are pretty much two kinds of horror films: ones that build up to something and ones that don't. Usually, you know when you're getting into a film that isn't building up to deliver something special at the end. That something special is usually a resolution to ongoing suspense, and at its best, it's a thought-provoking discovery.

There are tons of films that resolve the suspense with a finale worthy of the buildup. My all-time favorite film, Wait Until Dark comes to mind, or Psycho's twist ending. Others leave you with something to carry home with you, like where American Psycho builds up to its most interpretable material, or Martyers, which concludes with a philosophical rumination trapped somewhere between the Cartesian and the Lovecraftian. Then there are those films that don't resolve in the most memorable of ways. Most slasher fare is very formulaic, and you can usually tell by the box it came in what you're in for. These films aren't all bad, by any means. But instead of getting engrossed in the story, you can appreciate the film for the special moments it dishes out, like a great jump scene, a suspenseful buildup, or something you've never encountered before.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one such film, which established the slasher formula that we've learned to anticipate. The pacing and presentation of the film engrosses you, so that even today, I can still find people who don't know the film and say, "you have to see this!" The Shining is another presentation-driven film. The plot is fairly static, and the characters sort of act as outlets for the hotel's hauntings. When the drama is over, you don't really notice that the characters have left the hotel; the movie wasn't really about them anyway. It was about what that creepy July 4th photograph represents, which is enduring spookiness, plain and simple.

I really resent a film that tries to build up to something special and then tanks at the end. It prevents me from appreciating the positive qualities of the film. One way to do this is to give a twist ending that isn't logical (High Tension...). Hide and Seek does the same thing, where I feel let down by the twist, not because its illogical in this case, but because the only thing the movie had going for it was its effort to take me by surprise, which it totally failed to do.

Two of my top worst let-down endings are in Frailty and The Strangers. Frailty had me riveted through the whole film. I think that reductio ad absurdum is no way to hold a real debate about religious fundamentalism, but it is a perfect method to devise a quality horror plot. But at about the last possible moment, we lose the whole stream into an absurd twist, the motivation of which I simply cannot discern.

Similarly, I was thrilled by The Strangers, right up through "because you were home." Closing on such brilliantly nihilistic dialogue whould have been stellar, in my opinion, but then we're subjected to a few more minutes of aimless cruelty and the obvious preparatory moves to allow for a sequel. Ambrose Bierce wrote that the definition of a novel is "a short story padded." Already brief, The Strangers could be tighter.

This is the end of this post. I think it had its moments, but I don't have anything special for a closer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two versions of The Thing

Doing comparisons between a film and its remake seem to be a fruitful path.

Howard Hawk's 1951 film The Thing From Another World carries with it a theme particular to horror and science fiction films of that era. It appears that following the deployment of the atomic bomb in 1945, America came to villify science and scientists in its cultural output. The postwar period saw the birth of science fiction, and horror moved away from the gothic tales that had defined the genre. Film traded vampires for mad scientists.
But America was still on the upswing following WWII, and the military was commonly favored as the heroic saviors of mankind. The Thing From Another World presents a claustrophobic play between soldiers and aliens, yes, but also a subplot between soldiers and scientists. The scientist insists that The Thing be preserved alive for the sake of science, throwing the rest of the camp into peril. The soldier characters must overcome the meddling scientist and prevent him from abetting their more dangerous adversary.

This pro-military, anti-intellectual theme is reversed in John Carpenter's remake from 1982, simply titled The Thing. Concurring with other horror films from the post-Vietnam era (George Romero's Day of the Dead comes to mind), Carpenter portrays the military characters negatively, mired in the chain of command and divorced from the well-being of anyone they outrank. The film portrays scientific knowledge as an exponent of rationalism, which constantly conflicts with the irrationality of the soldier-types.
Curiously, the 1951 feature concludes with victory, while the 1982 remake ends with the almost certain failure of the characters to preserve themselves, or the rest of humanity. This certainly reflects our countries major military conflicts. In 1951, America was unbeaten and invincible, thanks to military bravery. By 1982, Americans had felt defeat in Vietnam, and the country was left feeling defeated and used. Because most conflicts since have played out in largely the same fashion, many horror films since have fallen between two poles of nihilistic resignation to certain doom (sad endings) and reactionary revenge fantasies (happy endings, see last entry).

Also, it is a great honor to have John Kenneth Muir as a "follower" of this blog. Please check out his pages!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Last House on the Left + remake

I happened upon the synopsis of Wes Craven's 1972 film The Last House on the Left in John Kenneth Muir's Horror Films of the 1970s, and was intrigued by how such cruelty, which seemed unfilmable as written, could have been filmed. So I found out.

I have a lot of ethical problems with Last House. A little background: Craven made the film under the financing of a drive-in theater owner, to be shown in double features. Craven has admitted that he was on drugs during much of the writing and filming. This doesn't leave a lot of room for artistic integrity. Additionally, this film is a direct copy of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, which itself is an adaptation of an old European story of revenge. The best that can be said for Craven's film is that it is a secular reboot of Bergman's film, which concludes with a religious resolution. I ask, is there a point to presenting that which has already been done? I don't think it's necessary to keep repeating an ugly story if the moral is already established.

It should be noted that this film is about rape, murder, and other torturous abuses. At one point in the film where one victim cries as the other consoles her, it's real. The girl did not want to continue shooting. That's kind of sick.

For years I considered Last House to be among the most offensively distasteful films I've seen (coupled with Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension [High Tension]). Then the remake came out in 2009, and warped my whole perspective.

The remake of The Last House on the Left is the same story as told before. But there is one key difference. In the original film, when the parents take their bloody revenge in a bout of passionate rage, they are left feeling empty and sick, shocked at what they have committed. But in the remake, the revenge is portrayed completely as a heroic effort. It's not even done in the heat of the moment. Instead, as two characters make their escape, the father remains behind to perform a torturous execution on the villain, who has been kept as a captive.

So where I cast aspersions on the original for making half-assed and possibly irresponsible moralizations about ethics and guilt, the remake does less than that. This shows that the moral question is essential to the story, and the remake completely disrespects the legacy of its predecessor and cops out to the model of summer movie mindlessness.

PREDICTION: I predicted when this film came out in 2009 that with the incoming Obama administration, the Last House remake would be among the last horror films to center on revenge. I find the total lack of moral questioning in this film and the justification of the most brutal brand of revenge to be complicit with American jingoism and the libertarian bent of mainstream conservative politics. My hope is that with President Obama as the new face of American culture, our cultural output will lose that Toby Keith, boot-in-your-ass, individualistic, revenge-justifying quality that leads to films like this.

Reflecting on parents in horror

Happy Fathers' Day! In honor of the occasion, I reviewed my horror list for fatherhood-themed possibilities, but in addition to noticing that I have not included the dad vs. stepdad Domestic Disturbance, I didn't turn up much else.

This prompted a rumination on the roles of mothers and fathers in horror films. I've noticed that fathers tend to fall into two categories: knights and dragons. Domestic Disturbance shows this nicely. The stepfather is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a monster, while the dad is a hero who comes to his son's rescue. Both of these roles are fairly clean-cut, without a lot of depth. Whether good or evil, the father role typically relies on strength, either as the stength to protect the child or the strength to harm it. Whatever his motive, ultimately the father must do some kind of battle.

On the other hand is the role of the mother, which comes in more forms. While the mother can be the knight or the dragon (Jolie in Changeling vs. Bates in her quasi-motherly role in Misery), these roles are few compared to the other character available to mothers: the kinds of monsters that breed monsters, psychologically (Psycho, Carrie) or literally (The Brood). This could be because horror tends to center on male characters, which sets the stage for Oedipal mother-son relationships. I think there's a lot left to mine out of father characters besides muscle. And in addition, I'd like to see someone take a different approach to the father-son, father-daughter, mother-daughter, and mother-son relationships that are so rooted in tradition that we can see them coming a mile away.

Defining Horror

Before this blog rolls on much further, I believe it is important to lay down some ground rules about what constitutes a horror film.

In high school, I picked up a book from the public library by John Kenneth Muir titled Horror Films of the 1970s. I love this tome and have checked it out many times. I was fairly sheltered growing up, and my parents kept to a pretty hard interpretation of MPAA guidelines. So I was allowed to see much in the way of scary movies until my junior/senior year. That summer, I picked up Muir's book, which was a pretty satisfying way to work through the films, synopsis by synopsis. The description of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre caught my interest pretty good, and I tracked down an old VHS copy. I think the way I imagined some of the film based on the review was more effective than the movie, but still, a classic. Then my folks eased up, and I started making up for lost time, using Muir's book as a model for my Netflix queue.

I was in the IB program in high school, and for my Extended Essay, I crafted a 17 page treatise on visual/artistic elements of Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, drawing heavily from Muir's book, as well as an IFC documentary titled The American Nightmare.

Studying horror films, and especially with keeping a list of them, requires some guidelines on what qualifies for the list and what doesn't. Muir's book includes non-traditional horror titles, such as A Clockwork Orange and Deliverance. At first, I just took his word for it, but I have a solid defense worked up.

A Clockwork Orange is so broad that it's tough to define. Our victims and antagonists swap roles at some point. What ties them together is the cruelty of the film, but that doesn't make it a horror picture by itself. But ACO does serve the definition of "horrify."

The difference beween terror and horror is that terror is the fear that something will occur, while horror is a reaction to something that has occured. ACO horrifies not by putting a character at stake, but by putting morality on the line. The plot of the film is a play that sets up the treatment Alex receives, which robs him of his ability to make immoral choices. This kind of Christian tyranny is a dystopia that threatens us more deeply than our bodies. That can horrify an audience.

Boorman's Deliverance will never be found in the horror aisle of a rental store. It's a drama and an action/adventure film. One thing I love about Deliverance is the relationships between the main characters. In the opening voiceovers, it's easy to believe that these men are real-life best buds. This makes them remarkably human, by movie standards, and extra vulnerable. They are not action heroes. This is essential.

Contrasting with the protagonists are the hillbilly antagonists. These characters are not regular villains of the drama and action genres. They are monstrous, no far cry from the inbreds in the Deliverance-inspired Wrong Turn or Aja's remake of Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. They are monstrous because they are not human like the protagonists. The villains are unreasonable and vicious, and totally unsympathetic. Consider an action villain who is motivated by money or power. That's a sympathetic vision. You can always root for Darth Vader, who makes villainy cool, but the adversaries in Deliverance are savage and unpredictable. You can't relate to it, so you recoil from it.

This is important to understand my take on two films: Zodiac, which didn't make my list, and The Passion of the Christ, which did.

Fincher's 2007 film about the Zodiac murders promised to be a pretty scary ride, but viewing it again, I realized that this isn't a film about a murderer. It's really about the protagonists. The murders are almost incidental, like a natural disaster. These men never actually come into conflict with the horrific element. Instead, we're treated to something like All The President's Men, which is not really about President Nixon, nor is Zodiac really about the Zodiac killer.

Gibson's The Passion of the Christ begins in media res, which totally limits it, in my opinion. I saw the film as a companion to the Biblical account of the execution of Christ, but it doesn't stand on its own, because it depends on a knowledge of scripture to be relevent. Furthermore, Gibson's film is horrifically gruesome, right on par with the most violent offerings (offings?) in the horror canon. I submit that the motive behind the film is to horrify, as a means to cultivate sympathy, yes, but by way of sickening the viewer. The Passion is certainly an exploitation film as well, building its audience by exploiting a religious conscience, regardless of the stand-alone merit of the presentation.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Antichrist- everything you need in horror

I first read about Lars Von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist while browsing Wikipedia during a night class. I read a synopsis, and a few days later found a streaming version online at some illegal hosting site or another. This film flashed "TEST" and the time periodically, and the sound was off from the action by about 3 seconds and I still sat through the whole thing. I was that impressed.

Von Trier brings a special style to the whole thing, but that's apparent in the first 3 seconds. Just watch the film. Netflix will stream it, which is much better than the way I first watched it.

My dad taught me, when we were watching The Others together when I was in the 6th grade, that the scariest movies work religion in somehow. I reckon he learned this in the 1970s, when The Omen made a big impact on him. Antichrist has this in spades, but also works in the subject my dad wasn't ready to broach yet.

I would suggest that sexual undertones are more powerful than religious ones in horror films. As a viewer, its tougher for me to get into the state of mind that I'm willing to accept demonic possession as a premise. Like anything else supernatural, the film has to make it seem natural to hook me. The Shining: ultimate haunted house story. Jeepers Creepers: you had me until he grew wings. C'mon.

I don't have a sophisticated way to relate sex and death, but it's there. Georges Bataille's book The Tears of Eros develops this topic carefully through a discussion of art. The book makes horror films make quite a bit more sense. Von Trier's film weaves sex and violence together in a similarly natural and sophisticated way.

A good horror story, to me, works like a philosophical paper, as a treatise on a particular topic. Antichrist could probably be just as effective on paper as on screen, as an investigation of what it means to be a woman. Charlotte Gainsbourg's character is writing a dissertation on gynocide, the murder of women, through history, and falls under the sway of its theological roots. This premise places man against nature. On the side of man is God, while nature is presented as the Church of Satan. As man made his way into the wilderness, he had to establish manly order as a bastion against the chaos of nature. Man's power over woman stems from her alignment with nature and Satan, as evidenced by her bodily cycle, over which she has no control. Thus, she is an instrument of Satan and a site of natural evil, and it falls to man to overcome her.

What a premise that is! It sets up one of those films that gives you something to think about. This is like a Nietzschean genealogy of power!

As you try that on for size, soak up what seals Antichrist for me. This film presents what it must have been like to be a settler of a strange land. Even the grass is threatening. The power and danger of nature haunts every shadowed tree, recalling an awe of nature lost in its modern subjugation. To watch this film and become afraid of the trees is what it would be like to experience the oldest horror of all, the kind that left paganism in its wake.

The violence in this film will make you recoil, but try to keep to the theme of the film and see those bodies as part of nature, living and dying in a flow. Then, once you feel that, apply it to the sexual content. It's as unsettling as it is amazing.

Two versions of The Shining

I recently had the mixed pleasure of viewing Mick Garris' 1997 television miniseries of Stephen King's The Shining. King was displeased by the liberties taken by Stanley Kubrick with the 1980 film adaptation of the 1979 novel, and guided Garris' version to be more accurate to the book.

I laud the miniseries for managing to remain compelling for three nights worth of entertainment. I am a fan of made-for-tv horror because the format forces the pacing to deliver thrills at specific intervals (right before commercial breaks). So every fifteen minutes or so, no matter what dull exposition may be underway, you're guarenteed a good jolt to bring you back to the story. I learned this from the 2000 tv movie Someone is Watching, which I loved, and got at Target for a buck.

Kubrick's Shining corners the market on creepy, but Garris' version may be scarier. Roger's wolf mask had me panicked in several scenes, and the scene in Room 217 packs a special punch. But the film left me longing for Kubrick's atmosphere. The Timberline Lodge is much creepier than the Stanley Hotel (which originally inspired King's story). The Timberline is enormous, and dwarfs the people inside, making it seem much more ominous and omnipresent. Also, the apparations in the 1980 film are much more detached from the action into which they intrude, making them appear much more bizarre than the 1997 ghosts, awash in green light before fading out of existence.

The apparitions that Kubrick deploys are much more haunting. My special favorite is the hotel guest in the bear mask preparing to service a man on a hotel bed. What in the hell is that all about? Not knowing what that signifies lends to the spookiness, and adding eroticism to the mix makes it seem all the more wrong. And it strikes me now that this may be paralleled by the fliratious roleplaying between Roger and Derwent in the Garris series, which may be fleshing out what Kubrick only hinted at.

What Kubrick's film shows is that his eye for horror rivals Stephen King's. When I read The Shining as a sophomore in high school, the scene in Room 217 scared me to death. I marked those pages carefully so that I would never inadvertently turn to them as I read the rest of the novel. That is the height of King's horror mastery, as far as I am concerned. But he also deployed those ridiculous topiary animals, which frankly do not work in any medium. Garris' film almost pulls it off by adding faces to the living lion bushes, but when the CG animation kicked in, they lost me. The snow being shaken off the animals isn't just clue that they are coming to life. It's an indication that animating moving snow is difficult/expensive.

I wish Kubrick had made more horror films, but maybe his not being a "horror director" is what allowed him to do what he did.

I want to share my experience of Room 217. When I read The Shining, I had up to that point only stayed in one kind of hotel room- the small, cheap kind. In these rooms, the door opens into the bedroom, and directly to the left is a coat area and the bathroom door. It is important to note that the bathroom door is only 5 feet from the front door. Inside the bathroom (poorly lit) is a sink, a toilet, and a grungy tub that accounts for exactly half of the space of the room. This is where the attack on Danny took place for me. As soon as that decaying woman stood up, she was on him, because there was no room to run. Sure, he can fall backwards, which literally clears him from the bathroom, but there's nowhere to go after that, because he's already at the door. And since the bathroom is its own room, as Danny scratches at the door, looking over his shoulder, there's the experience that makes hide and seek impossible for me: waiting for your inevitable, abrupt discovery. Waiting for her to attack is not the measured tension of watching her come through a large room, knowing how many paces she is from your position. This scene is just waiting for her to turn the corner. You know she will, but not when. This made Kubrick's scene in 237 (changed from 217 because the Timberline was afraid they wouldn't be able to rent that room ever again) disappointing for me. Garris' 217 was an improvement, by degrees, showing a smaller bathroom in a marginally smaller suite.

An introduction

My name is Jackson. I am a law student with a BA in Philosophy. I also have a passion for horror and a lot of time on my hands, at present at least. My intent is to offer my take on the horror genre, taking my analysis as deep as I can.

What differentiates me from the myriad horror fans haunting the web is that though I love the horror genre, I will be the first to admit that almost all of the films I see are terrible. It takes something very special for me to actually like one.

As a means of introduction, I present my top 10 horror films:

1. Wait Until Dark (Young, 1967)
2. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
3. American Psycho (Harron, 2000)
4. Se7en (Fincher, 1995)
5. Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)
6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1973)
7. Antichrist (Von Trier, 2009)
8. Deliverance (Boorman, 1972)
9. Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)

See? I don't love enough of them to put a #10.

To date, I have seen 237 horror films.

If you are reading this, thank you. I appreciate your time.