Hotel 626

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The most memorable thing about the Innkeepers is its approach to build-up. Unlike most horror films, The Innkeepers takes its sweet time to create an air of suspense- almost dragging itself along the way. It’s quite refreshing because it was so different from most horror films that open with the characters driving straight into the terror. Although slow, it was not slow enough to put me to sleep because the music score was practically ordering my skin to tingle. The music and cinematography at this point take centre stage, teleporting the viewer to the perfect state of mind.

            The film begins to pick up when people actually start staying at the Inn. This is when The Fantastic stream of horror finally gets introduced, and the fear of the unknown is a major theme throughout the rest of the film. Days that were once menial for the two innkeepers are suddenly shaken up by creepy instances (which is their fault, anyway, since they go looking for ghosts in that place) such as audio feedback on their ghost-hunting equipment, creepy psychic old women, and self-playing pianos.

However, you don’t know if these things are actually occurring, or if it really is just the product of Claire’s over-hyper imagination. The film feels too realistic and day-to-day that it becomes hard to take any form of supernatural power seriously. It just doesn’t feel in place. At first, I thought it was just an awkward concept, but when the film reached it’s end and Luke told the paramedics that he was banging on the door for Claire to open up during the scene wherein she died, the possibility of her being crazy crossed my mind. Perhaps she really just became obsessed with the idea of Madeline? I wasn’t so sure, but it made the supernatural elements feel much more in place as opposed to there actually being a ghost chasing her throughout the basement.

            In contrast to the slow build-up, a lot of the horror elements arrived one after the other as we entered the depths of the film, and snowballed into a jam-packed closing sequence of bloodbaths (literally), psychic visions, and ghosts. It weirded me out a bit because I felt like all of the action was saved for the last fifteen minutes, and the film completely abandoned its slow-to-warm-up tactic that created such a glorious atmosphere. In my personal opinion, the scariest part of the film was when the old man checked into the inn and requested for that specific room because there is nothing scarier than mysterious old people in abandoned inns.

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Halloween

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Halloween opens with all the necessary information you need to understand Michael Myer’s back-story: who he is, where he came from, and what he did. And it spends a good 30% of the film focusing on the transition of his cheerful young self into the chained and silent mass-murderer he becomes. One prominent and recurring icon throughout the entire film is Michael’s mask. From a young age, he already takes a liking to them. These masks seem to hold his secret identity and it gets worse as he gets older- creating hundreds of masks to hang around his room, no longer for the purpose of hiding his quirks, but to finally become his identity.1

The idea of the masks reminds me of a line I once heard from Never Been Kissed: “See, Shakespeare’s making the point here that when we’re disguised, we feel freer. We can do things we wouldn’t do in ordinary life.” 

            The masks held all of Michael’s power. They gave him the authority to feel that he could do things he wouldn’t normally do, such as kill animals, and eventually, people. Without the mask, he was simply Michael, but with it, he had become a killer. 

            In her article “Her body, himself” Barbara Creed states two interesting ideas. The first being “We are linked, in this way, with the killer in the early part of the film, usually before we have seen him directly and before we have come to know the Final Girl in any detail. Our closeness to him wanes as our closeness to the Final Girl waxes—a shift underwritten by story line as well as camera position. By the end, point of view is hers.”

            You can clearly see this in Halloween because halfway through, the film shifts as if it was created in two parts: “Before” and “After”. The “Before” being about Michael and the “After” shifting focus to Laurie- his baby sister who was salvaged from the ruins of Michael’s childhood, and has since then grown into a teenage girl completely oblivious to her origin.

            Secondly, “The gender of the Final Girl is likewise compromised from the outset by her masculine interests, her inevitable sexual reluctance, her apartness from other girls, sometimes her name.” Laurie seems to be the perfect example of these factors. From the first few moments she appeared, her boyish charm, virginity, aloofness, even her unisex name- “Laurie”, separated her from her friends.

            What bothers me about this is that sexuality is such a great determinant for a woman’s chances for survival in horror film. There’s always that one girl who is just a little bit more comfortable with her sexuality than others, and she usually ends up being murdered in the middle of intercourse or something equally degrading (which happened more than once in this film). Halloween was full to the brim of teenage sexuality and stupidity, and that’s probably why it didn’t work out so well for me.

 

The 12 year old Monster

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“Let The Right One In” is actually not very hard to understand or analyze. Upon first look, it is clearly a horror film. It has all the elements of gothic screen art: dark and light contrast, shadows, an atmosphere of suspense, and a lot of blood. But if you take a deeper look into Let The Right One In, you find that it’s a classic hipster take on forbidden love- one actually more conventional than you think. It has your typical lonely boy who lives with only one parent, and the quirky girl next door, who coincidentally also happens to live with only one parent, giving them a common denominator. As usual, something gets in the way of their love and they are forced apart only for one of them to return at a time of need. 

What makes this movie so different from your typical romance film, however, is that the quirky girl has more than just brightly dyed hair- she lives off blood, and she is 12. And Oskar likes more than just indie music- he is obsessed with the idea of murder, and the two of them find in each other what they cannot find anywhere else: acceptance and understanding. The only thing sadder than the fact that this doe-eyed little girl cannot help her bloodthirst is that her pathetic and frail father must be the one to get it for her.

There was one particular and very glorious scene in the film that brought me straight back to Barbara Creed’s explanation of the role of bodily fluids in horror-

Such wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit – cadere, cadaver. If dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything. It is no longer I who expel. ‘I’ is expelled. (p. 70)

All I can think of is Oskar forcing Eli into his home without giving her permission, and blood literally pouring out of her. She was expelling herself of fluid that literally composed her- she was killing herself. For what reason, I’m not entirely sure. To prove her love to Oskar? That would make sense in the conventional love story formula, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit the concept of this horror-romance. Provocation usually turns one away from proving his or her love, so Eli probably just wanted to prove a point to Oskar more than anything else- that she is not human and that her condition has consequences. Like any other girl in your typical romance film, Eli wanted to save Oskar from her issues.

Horror is a genre so often synergized with suspense, thriller and drama- Rarely with romance. I’ve come to enjoy the horror-romance subgenre almost as much as romantic-comedy because of its unique taste and take on love. Let The Right One In portrayed the indie love story in a dark and twisted way, and Oskar and Eli have joined the ranks of unconventional love teams beside Tyler Durden and Marla Singer (Fight Club), Eva and V (V for Vendetta), and Joel and Clementine (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

May

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May starts off with an air of creepiness perfectly constructed by the many faces of dolls. They eerily watch you as the film introduces its heroine, May Kennedy. What’s ironic is that Linda Williams’ reading “When the Woman Looks” focuses on the strength of the man’s gaze, but this opening sequence has no man, or person for that matter, yet there is so much power of the gaze to the dolls. They are the silent objects that establish that May is certainly not normal, and perhaps the most important icon throughout the film, after the “master doll” Amy.

May is a quirky yet loveable veterinarian who suffers from intense loneliness. Although the film doesn’t dwell much on the source of her loneliness, it reveals that it has caused her to obsessively collect dolls and even regard one as her best friend. She goes to extreme and borderline-stalkerish measures to achieve attention from the broody, yet handsome, Adam- who she has never met, but often passes by while on her lunch break. The film is generally slow-paced, focusing heavily on character development, but leaving all of its excitement for the last fifteen minutes in the form of a psychological slasher-flick. If you haven’t already guessed it, she kills everyone who ever hurt her and makes a new best friend out of all their perfect body parts. 

My problem with May, however, is the abundance of plot holes. There are so many questions about the source of her loneliness, her knowledge of Adam, and even her soft spot for blind kids, but no answers. I somewhat wish that the film had spent a little bit more time establishing the source of her problems rather than throwing the audience right into them.

In her article “Horror and the Monstrous Feminine,” Barbara Creed states

“Although the specific nature of the border changes from film to film, the function of the monstrous remains the same – to bring about an encounter between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability.”

She then follows with naming four different examples of instability in symbolic order where the monstrous can be found, three of which can also be found prominently in May. First, the border between human and inhuman and the border between normal and the supernatural can both be challenged by the creation of Amy with the mutilated body parts- it is made up of humans, but is not human in itself, and also supernaturally comes to life at the end of the film; and the border which separates normal and abnormal sexual desire, witnessed in May’s masochistic fetishes and also her confused gender preference. May creates the monstrous in almost every aspect of the film, making it a perfect example for Creed’s article.

Grace

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A long overdue post, but I can’t run away from this one forever.

I’m a big fan of reading about true-to-life horror stories. I research stories on America’s worst  murder cases, read about cult massacres, and enjoy gruesome news bits in small doses. There was one story about the post-traumatic-stress-disorder that the friend of my mom’s went through that stands out to me when I think of Grace. It goes like this:

Woman X had married an older man, Mr. X. They lived together for a few years, along with his dog in their big house, and like most women, marriage was not enough for Mrs. X. She wanted children. Mr. X, feeling past his prime, and having already had children, didn’t feel the need to have anymore. “My dog is my child, now” he told Mrs. X, firmly. A year later, Mrs. X was pregnant, to Mr. X’s surprise. Obviously, she had been tampering with her birth control, but the pregnancy did not last long. A few months into her term, a miscarriage occurred. A few months later, the dog died- which devastated Mr. X more than the miscarriage. What Mr. X didn’t know, was that Mrs. X had purposely stopped feeding the dog- her “post-traumatic-stress-disorder” caused her to starve it to death because she was jealous of the attention it was receiving.

This story strongly reminds me of the turbulence of emotions that Madeleine experienced after the death (and resurrection) of her daughter. I simply cannot imagine the connection a mother feels to the life in her womb, but if it leads her to hurt animals, and (more commonly) herself, it freaks me out enough to reconsider having children!

I’ve always been both inspired and confused by the power of “a mother’s love.” Present in countless literary pieces, such as Albom’s For One More Day, Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and more popularly, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the love a mother has for her child has been described to transcend life itself. But it’s a bit different in Grace. Madeleine didn’t die to protect her child, instead, she urged her child to life even when she was already dead. The love she had for Grace wasn’t the selfless kind, in fact, it was quite the opposite. It was rooted out of self-pity and desperation, to prove her own mother-in-law wrong, and to prove to herself that she was capable. Although seemingly innocent and somewhat pathetic, her love was corrupt.

Laced with disturbing images of bloody cattle, cut-up breasts, and open-wounds, Grace is actually just the sad story of a woman who loved her daughter to the point of obsession. It’s ironic, because the monster is both the innocent child who doesn’t know what harm she’s doing, and the lonely mother who desperately wants to give and receive love.

REC 2

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The scariest thing about horror films is the haunting that comes after- the paranoia that it could happen to you. Films such as The Strangers and The Blair Witch Project, because they are the hardest to forget.

That’s what I liked about [REC] initially. The fact that the director made it as true-to-life as possible, incorporating handheld cameras, realistic reactions, and a variety of characters was what sold it for me.

[REC] 2, however, was a let down. It seemed the producers had earned a lot of money from [REC] and chose to expand the budget for its sequel, which made it lose its raw edge.

The biggest difference was the camera. From a shakey hand-held, it had turned to a good camera disguised as a bad one. The camera was a huge factor in the thrill of the first film; it set the whole mood and made me feel that I was witnessing a leaked scandal. I found the camera switching between the SWAT officers a bit weird, but liked how it showed a wider perspective of what was going on in the apartment. I was very relieved when the shakey handheld returned with the teenagers, until they pissed me off with their whining.

What I did like, however, was that they divulged the reasons behind the infection. I’m a huge sucker for twisted mad-men and corrupted heroes, so I loved the fact that the culprit behind the virus was actually a priest who was attempting to save a possessed girl. I just wish they played it up more by making the experiments more scandalous. In my version, the priest would have held the teenager girl as one of his virginal captives (a typical theme in most horror films, as we’ve discussed) and performed sick experiments on her, rather than actually have her possessed. That would have made it more horrific because everyone loves a good church scandal. I lost interest in the experiments behind the girl once it started getting supernatural. I wasn’t a big fan of the devil-communication through the other zombies, nor the finding the girl through night vision (but I must admit, the doorway in the darkness was something I expected to see in the Silent Hill video games).

One of the best parts the film, however, was the return of the reporter, and the twist wherein she was actually possessed by the demon. Her acting was commendable and the whole situation was completely unexpected, but the whole worm-transfer via mouth was overkill. Also, the moment wherein the teenage girl shot the officer instead of the zombie. It was the only part of the film wherein I felt sympathy for their little group for leading themselves to their entrapment. Overall, aside from sealing up plot holes that were created by the first film, [REC] 2 did not match up to its prequel.

What Happens in Spain, Stays in Spain.

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I’m guilty of believing that this film was titled Wreck- named after the state of the victim’s lives because of the infection, but “REC” makes so much more sense.

I’ve seen the English version of REC before, Quarantine, and initially liked it a lot because of its POV-style which made the whole horror story much more interactive and gave the viewer an experience similar to the cameraman’s.

In my opinion, the scariest horror films are the ones that are realistic. The Strangers still scares me more than Saw, because I know that it has happened and could easily happen again to someone like me. Although REC is like any other Zombie film wherein it all starts with an infection that spreads like wildfire, the fact that it’s shot in POV makes it feel so much more real- just like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Admittedly, I had to check Google if the latter was a real documentary or not … I’m still ashamed.

Another important detail of REC’s storyline was the fact that the authorities knew what was going on, but focused so much on keeping it hidden from the public that they actually trapped the victims inside the building to die. This whole idea gave me the creeps because I’m pretty sure that happens all around the world- censorship to “protect” the image of the government. I’ve heard so many terror stories about media stations having to produce cover up stories to protect criminals who are actually those with powerful positions in our government. I’ve always considered films as a key medium used to express freedom, but this is probably the first time I’ve actually recognized it in the horror genre. REC entirely opposes censorship, which we can see in the curiosity of the television host we follow throughout the film- Her desperation to catch everything on tape despite the policemen’s orders so she has something to show the public, and most obviously in that one line that closes the film, “we have to show them everything.”

However, even though they are practically the same film, there is one thing that differentiates REC from Quarantine- the ending. REC provided a slither of a conclusion- although we were left hanging, at least we know that a catholic madman scientist is involved, and we can pretty much figure out that the whole disease was from an experiment gone wrong. Quarantine gives you nothing.w

With all of that being said, I found REC generally a good horror film because it was realistically disturbing. There was the right amount of gore, right amount of suspense, and right amount of scandal. They didn’t go too overboard with the cause behind the infection, and everyone knows that rusty hospital equipment in a room full of religious cutouts run by a religious nut/torture doctor/madman scientist is probably as scary as it gets.