(B O N U S) Z O M B I E L A N D

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I went searching for a movie that I could write about for extra credit in the list of the 100 Best Horror Films of All Time on IMDB. I had already written about The Shining, so I thought that I had the right to pick something a lot less scary, but sadly, as I did this, I picked something a lot less interesting, too.

Zombieland was not so much a legitimate horror movie as it was a rom-com with zombies. It follows a shy and friendless “Columbus” as he tries to survive the zombie apocalypse that has taken over America. Along the way, he meets “Tallahassee”, a violent zombie-killing twinkie-addict and “Wichita” and her younger sister “Little Rock”, also survivors headed to Pacific Playland. The story revolves around these four characters as they fight to stay alive and uninfected whilst learning to trust one another on their journey.

It’s not hard to notice that the movie relied mainly on the four main characters – their quirks, their interactions with one another. Aesthetically, it was great. The zombies were both believable and frightening, but they were merely extras. The plot was quite shallow and has nothing more than a cute moral lesson at the end. Take out the zombies and what you have is a cheesy B movie that barely makes any money at the box office.

Emma Stone’s character, “Whichita”, portrays more of the stereotypical horror movie female than an abject or one possessing power-in-difference. They start off by introducing her as strong-willed and independent but culminate with her as the damsel-in-distress, significant only to give opportunity to the main male character to be the hero, to be the stereotypical horror movie male.

Basically, I am surprised it found its way to IMDB’s 100 Best Horror films because I barely even consider it worthy of being considered a horror movie at all let along one of the best of it’s supposed genre. But I guess that’s wha t I get from picking the least scary-looking poster in the line-up.

Sometimes, I really believe Holloywood doesn’t do enough justice to the horror genre. It lacks a lot in depth what it tries to make up with aesthetics.

L E T T H E R I G H T O N E I N

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Needless to say, this vampire movie trumps Twilight in every single category – acting, direction, character development, acting, audience impact..have i mentioned acting?

“Let The Right One In” has the same premise as Twilight, for it involves a romance between a vampire and a human, but “Let the Right One In” elevates it to a level worthy of praise, unlike Twilight, which deserves only ridicule. Pretty much, it was everything Twilight wanted to be, but wasn’t. Both heart-warming and gut-wrenching, it was a pleasure from start to finish.

The story follows Oskar, a sombre, slightly androgynous boy who has not a friend in the world. He is constantly bullied in school and secretly wishes he had the courage to stand up to them or inflict the same pain he had been dealt. One night, he meets Eli, a slightly disheveled, soft-spoken girl with a certain uncanny grace to her. She is gentle but not altogether shy and the more they enjoy each other’s company, the more Oskar is attracted to her. Little does he know, however, she was attracted to the smell of blood.

Despite not knowing her secret and disregarding any hints she had given him to her double life, they fall in love. It is not outrightly said but it is intensely felt – slowly and subtly. Let The Right One In was indeed a horror movie but does not ever lose focus on its love story center. The acting of both Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson is hauntingly brilliant, expressing ever so hauntingly the hope they have to be together against all odds. Even when Oscar discovers Eli’s secret, he does not flee, nor does he make it seem that knowing her secret changes his feelings for her. He had let her in his life for love, her being a cold-blooded killer wasn’t going to chage his decision to keep her in his life. The scene where he confronts her, was definitely a highlight of the movie, only second to their escape on the train, which was able to capture so adequately the love that these two shared for one another. “Let The Right One In” praise-worthy horror film that doesn’t leave an emotional plot at the door but lets it in – and I couldn’t be happier they did.

Again, like May, I see more of Robin Wood’s idea of repression here than Williams’ or Creed’s ideas on gender. While, yes, there is obviously a monstrous female that has a power that threatens the vulnerable male by its power-in-difference, this was not the lesson I first associated this movie with. I associated it more with the social repression of trusting – the fear many people have of putting their trust in someone who could easily do them wrong, or basically, many people’s fear of falling in love. They’re fearful of opening themselves up to someone and allowing them ample room to hurt them in the process. There is also always the fear that the person you fell in love with will become someone you don’t know at all. His (or her) secrets could see the light of day which will cause you to shed a tear or two in the darkness of your room for the one who wronged you. It crushes this fear in the least sappy way – it’s dark but beautiful take on the love that knows no bounds is indeed enough to warm even the coldest (vampire) soul.

 

 

P O N T Y P O O L

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I was actually quite impressed with this movie. I found it quite interesting that a movie set in just a small radio station in some remote, unheard of city in Canada was able to hold my attention throughout the entire movie.

There are two reasons i could postulate as to how they were able to do this. First, Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy. Since the whole narrative is guided by this man’s voice, proper casting of his role was quite critical. I think they did quite a job casting McHattie because as self-assured and almost arrogant as he could be at times, his voice is the voice of guidance and of discovery that guides our experience of the movie. His impressive portrayal of this character ensured that when he found himself  nervous or even scared, this only instills the same fear in the audience. The portrayal of his character as self-assured, made every moment of confusion as unnerving for us, as if we were hopeless and petrified Pontypool residents listening to his broadcast, as anxious to understand the situation as they are completely terrified by it. Second, the way the movie was shot and its witholding of the who, what and why’s of the outbreak created great tension within its audience members simply because the unknown was only clarified slowly through frantic and often perplexing phone-calls from the outside world. This gave the audience a clear opportunity to let the horror unfold in their own heads. Because never did reveal outright the who, whats and whys of the outbreak, you are left to have your imagination run wild. Your curiosity is only whet but never really fully satisfied. 

Though at times, it was hard to follow the who, what and whys in this movie, i think thats part of the whole appeal of the movie. No explanation past what the characters can discover or assume is ever really given, and even when it is, it is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around or altogether nonsensical. What they discovered to be the source and the transmission of the disease was unfathomable to say the least, and the random moments of irrelevant silliness such as the post-credits, almost make me wonder if they cared to make sense at all. But I guess that’s all part of what makes this movie interesting – you’re left to use your imagination, to draw your own conclusions.

In relation to the articles on gender, I actually think that Pontypool portrayed the more stereotypical male and female of horror where the man is the dominating, assertive one while the woman is more passive, more the damsel-in-distress one. As we saw in the movie, Grant chose when to respect Sydney’s decisions as his producer and when to do and say as he pleased on air. Also, we see that when Sydney gets attacked by the infected child and is infected herself, it is Grant that comes to the rescue. She is even attracted to him at this moment – this moment of masculinity, of heroism even, of Grant. In relation to Barbara Creed’s article, one can speculate that the virus itself was, in Creed’s explanation, feminine. She believes that, in horror, the feminine is seen as passive and permissive of subjugation. This virus somewhat acts in the same way because it doesn’t have the power in it’s self to transmit itself, it has to be made active by a power outside of itself – language. It needs to be triggered by the uttering and understanding of words because it is only then when it transcends passivity and actively infects a new host.

For a movie that most probably worked with a small budget, Pontypool was very successful in creating a feeling of curiosity and tension needed for a pleasant horror experience, as Robin Wood would agree. Its steady but effective mode of making known the unknown was quite unique and ensured that our eyes and ears stayed attentive and our imaginations at work.

 

M A Y

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May was one of the more disturbing films we’ve watched in class. Not just because of the all the blood, dismembered bodies and her cringe-worthy attempts at flirting but for how the movie makes you realize what loneliness can really do to a person. 

Due to a lazy eye her mother wanted to keep hidden from her peers, May wore an eyepatch for a large part of her childhood. This caused a lot of her schoolmates to distance themselves from her. For this reason, she grew up with no friends except Suzie, her glass-encased doll which her mother had given her to address her need for friends. Because of misguided ideas of parenthood and May’s own personal inability to conduct herself acceptably in social situations, she lives a life of isolation, with Suzie as her only friend. It is only when she falls for Adam, a local mechanic, did May begin to attempt to socialize – even giving in to exploring her sexuality with both Adam and Polly, her lesbian colleague, and experimenting with cigarettes.

We see, however, that despite May beginning to socialize and experience new things, that she has not yet outgrown her childish insecurities and handles rejection quite unfavorably. She childishly blames Suzie for Adam’s rejection of her when it wasn’t her fault at all. Her inability also to share Suzie with her blind companions was telling of how even though she was opening herself up to new people and experiences, she still held on to her life of isolation and all the baggage that came with it. This, I believe, is what lead her to handle rejection the way she did, by doing what her mother so wrongly told her – “if you can’t find a friend, make one.”

As weird and gruesome as it was, I actually really enjoyed this movie. Though her horrifying quest for parts was heaps more interesting then the sluggish buildup, I personally believe that all scenes were relevant in helping the audience learn about May which really helped us understand May and even sympathize with her in the end. The ending was haunting but at the same time heart-wrenching as you can’t help but pity May for the lengths she had to go through for companionship. It was this feeling of pity that lead me to be more delighted then frightened when Amy, her life-sized rag doll made of dismembered parts of all those she had killed, came to life and touched May’s face as she smiled.

Though this movie saw the normally male gaze being held by May towards Adam instead of the other way around, this movie reminded me more of Robin Wood’s idea of horror movies being an attempt to deal/express repressed material than Linda William’s idea of the gaze. Wood sees fantasy as “coded expression of the tension between social norms and unconscious desires” which I think relates to May greatly. Her story reminds us of fears of rejection for being different or our unconscious desire for acceptance from our peers. In a society where bullying has even gone so far as to lead children to suicide, it is not surprising that we can see in the character of May a representation of resistance to a social stumbling block we all wish to budge – that of rejection.

H A L L O W E E N

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Halloween is a prequel/remake of the 1978 horror film of the same name, directed by the (aptly named) Rob Zombie. This 2007 version follows the life of Michael Myers, from his childhood of horror to his life in isolation. Having murdered his mother’s boyfriend, his sister and his sister’s boyfriend on Halloween night when he was 10 years old, Michael was sentenced to isolation under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis.

This half of the movie was the more interesting half. Though it showed michael in the early stages of being a cold-blooded killer, it as able to create a kind of relationship between the audience and Michael. The verbally abusive father, the negligent sister, the offensive schoolmates, the suicidal mother were all successful in garnering sympathy for Michael from the audience. This added backstory on how and why he became the way he did really gave the audience a chance to identify with him and to understand the very realistic factors that lead to his murderous ways.

This was as far as the depth went though, sadly. Only the character of Michael was really depended. The rest seem to be introduced just to be taken out soon after. Once the second half of the movie was entered, especially when they introduced the teenage girls, it was hard to distinguish one from the other. But, most disappointing aspect of the second half was Michael’s hair. No, not because it was dirty and greasy, but because it covered his face the whole time. This made it difficult to sustain the feelings of sympathy and connectedness to Michael because he was now just a monster – no longer a person we could relate to.

Linda William’s idea of the active gaze can be applied here. Usually, in horror movies, the woman is seen as passive, as victim, as punishable for her gaze. Laurie, being the subject of the gaze, is portrayed as an outspoken but loving daughter and friend. She is in no way portrayed as fearless and strong. As a matter of fact, while her and her friends were walking down the street and they noticed he was lingering around them, both her friends try to tell him off while she does not. That is what makes her actions in the end all the more surprising, all the more unconventional. As Williams mentions when talking about the active gaze, women are refused this gaze of activity or control and punished if they try. The fact that Laurie was more concerned about defeating MIchael than running away was very telling of her use of active gaze. It was the psychiatrist that found himself close to death while Laurie was the one who pulled the trigger. The sweet, babysitting daddy’s girl defeats the monster. Again, like Claire in the Innkeepers, Laurie is a atypical portrayal of a female horror character. But being a woman myself, I am happy to see women portrayed as more than just the victim but also in a way a hero in their own right.

Dare I say, “you go, girls.” 

T H E I N N K E E P E R S

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As was made painfully evident in the beginning of the movie, “The Innkeepers” took a long time to heat up. One could easily see this as a bad thing – a boring thing – as I did in the beginning. It seemed a tad too draggy and a lot of scenes seemed to be created just to delay the actual ghost-sitings as much as possible. This honestly frustrated me a lot in the beginning of the movie because I wanted the hook, I wanted to know just what was going to happen already.

Then I realized that the manner at which the story was told was essential to what the movie was trying to make us feel – impatient yet still afraid of every turn, restless but curious. If one were to really analyse the plot of the movie, it is simple. During the final days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees, both ghost-hunting enthusists, set out to reveal the inn’s haunted past which includes the mystery of scorned Madelline O’Malley. A plot such as this could have been played out in 30 minutes or less. Cut out all seemingly unnecessary scenes – when Claire mistook Luke for a ghost one night, when Claire spoke to Leann Rease-Jones in her room, when Luke ran away only to return to the Inn, etc – and anyone would have still been able to tell this story. After further reflection, however, one realizes that this kind of pacing was necessary in creating the tension and curiosity that the makers desired of the audience. It was about creating an atmosphere of tension within the movie so that the audience would feel the same tension, the same desire for answers, the same level of curiosity as Claire.

It was also interesting to note that the character of Claire, greatly differs from many horror movie  protagonist. First, she was a woman. As discussed by Sir in class and in Linda William’s article found in the Film Reader, rarely are women ever the active movers in horror movies. As Williams mentions when talking about the active gaze, women are refused this gaze of activity or control and punished if they try. The fact that Claire was the one who was more determined to make contact with Madelline, that she was the one who remained in the Inn while Luke fleed, that she was the one who always actively pursued her curiosity in the face of danger, and that Luke was admittedly helpless to save Claire as she pounded on the door for her life all point to Claire as being the atypical portrayal of a female horror character. She could have even been seen as the most so-called “masculine” of the lot. It was only at the end when her curiosity and perseverance eventually led her to her death, did it revert to the typical portrayal of women as punished for their gaze, for their activity. Despite this, however, as a woman, the character of Claire is significant in terms of seeing that horror can see women as more than just a character to be victimized or subjugated but one strong enough to drive the entire plot of the movie, whilst keeping you interested in what other norms she’s gonna break in the process.

 

R E C T W O

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Let’s be honest – the only reason Rec 1 was made was so that they could make Rec 2. 

Rec 2 is leaps and bounds more psychologically taxing and all-together horrifying than Rec 1. Here you weren’t distracted by a multitude of different characters you were still trying to keep up with by the time they were bitten/killed, the story wasn’t as draggy and the source of the evil wasn’t just some transmittable disease. Rec 2 had a bit more depth, had a bit more plot twists to keep you interested all throughout. It seamlessly transforms a mediocre zombie movie into a real thriller where every character has significance. Also, I think the utilization of multiple cameras this time around, created a more dynamic experience as a whole. It afforded the movie more opportunities to really round out the story and provide different angles which really made a world of difference in this installment.

To relate this to Sir’s discussion before the movie, I think this move greatly threatened what the characters in the movie thought was natural – but at different levels. For the kids who snuck into the building, their world drastically changes by their knowledge of why they had to put the building on lockdown. If they had made it out, their lives would never be the same again. Even the SWAT officers had their idea of what (had become) familiar to them – that there is an infection contained in the building that needs to be investigated. But even thir newly-familiarized notion of the world is threatened when they enter the building. It is no longer a force of science or biology they’re after, its a religious one, a spiritual one. There is a demon in the building – not only their mission has changed but their familiarity with the situation, and ultimately, living in the world.

To relate this movie further to the article of Noel Carroll, “Why Horror?”, this installment of REC quite clearly shows one of Carroll’s descriptions of Horror stories which is that it is a protracted series of discoveries – both of the characters within the story and for the audience as well. The characters have to discover that, in their world, there are those that possess people and inflict horror on those surrounding them. That what they had first thought to be an infection, was indeed a demon the Vatican had set out to combat. For the audience, on the other hand, we also go through the same discoveries but as the movie ended, we had the upper hand. We were the only ones to discover that demon had tricked them all whilst in the body of the recovered newscaster. This final discovery MADE the movie. When a movie leaves you relieved that it’s over so you don’t have to see the kind of pain that will soon be inflicted on the rest of the people in the story, you know you’ve just seen a good horror film. REC 2 is up there with Triangle as my favorite horror movies so far. The openendedness of both films allowed the story to live on in our mind – free to only imagine what other horrors lied in store for the characters. These are the kinds of horror movies I think that transcend aesthetic horror and really get under your skin.