FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Feb 28, 2007

Because I am a Nerd...

...I thought it would be interesting to do a little study of the visual cues found in Neil Marshall's The Descent, a film you may have heard me mention here once or twice or 10,000,000 times. While Mr. Marshall is certainly a filmmaker who wears his influences on his sleeve, this shot comparison venture I undertook would surely leave him sniggering; though most of these are intentional, I think in actuality he simply set out to make a good horror film. But dammit! The movie is so full of meaning and symbolism and whatnot- if you're looking for it. In fact, I find it so rife with shit to talk about that I'll be teaching a class on The Descent this April at The Learning Annex. My course will be on Tuesday nights, sandwiched between Jimmie Walker's ongoing series "Make 'Em Laugh- Everything You Need to Know for a Dy-No-Mite Comedy Routine!" and Linda Hunt's lecture "Mixed Messages: Yes, I Am Small, But No, I'm Not a Man".

How many of these references did you pick up on?

DELIVERANCE

The entire weekend-outing-gone-horribly-awry angle in The Descent owes a great deal to John Boorman's 1972 existential survivalist classic, Deliverance. While some nods are obvious, from the opening white water rafting sequence to Juno's sporting some Burt Reynolds-style sleeveless climbing gear, some are less obvious. First off, the fictional National Park where the girls go caving is named after the Chattooga River, deep in the Appalachian country of Georgia, where Deliverance was largely filmed.

There are some extremely subtle references to Drew (Ronny Cox), who meets a rather grisly end:



Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) emerging from the underground is reminiscent of Deliverance...


...and also Brian DePalma's

CARRIE

By the time Sarah rises out of the chum pool, one can't help but notice the striking similarity she bears to Sissy Spacek as poor ol' Carrie White. Man, Sissy Spacek is so fucking good in this movie.




Sarah also comes to resemble Sally Hardesty in

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE


In fact, in addition to the visual cues, The Descent shares a bit thematically with TCM as Sarah and Sally both descend into insanity over the course of their respective films. They'd make quite a cuckoo nutso tag team, don't you think? OMIGOD I just said "they both descend" and the film is called The Descent...can you believe it? I totally need to add that to my lecture notes.

THE SHINING

The idea of a character being driven mad is also central to Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining. The film also gets one of the biggest visual nods in Marshall's film, as early driving sequences in both movies are filmed in the same manner:



ALIEN

Far less obvious are the winks to Ridley Scott's Alien; the films have more of a feel in common than anything else, but the sequence depicting Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Sarah climbing over the bone dam is much like the sequence wherein John Hurt climbs up and gets an eyeful of the space jockey:





THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Juno's morning jog is a direct reference to the morning jog of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in Silence of the Lambs:




The poster for The Descent also pays homage to Silence, borrowing from the poster. Of course, both films ape the image from Philippe Halsman's photograph Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors, which in turn is based on Dali's gouache painting Female Bodies as a Skull.




Now then, don't you feel 3% smarter than you were before you read this post? Analyzing is fun! For further discussion, though, you'll all have to sign up for my class. Anyone who brings me cookies gets an automatic A.

What? I like bribes.

Feb 27, 2007

pimpage

I bet you looked at that picture and thought to yourself..."Wow, a myopic, asthmatic Ken Foree of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead? I bet this picture is from a movie that has something to do with demonic strippers!"

For once, you'd be right- but I should remind you that not everything has to do with demonic strippers. If the cashier at Stop & Shop forgets to ring up your coupon for Chock Full O' Nuts, that doesn't mean she's a demonic stripper. Just because your neighbor's dog looks at you funny, that doesn't mean your neighbor's dog is a demonic stripper....ok? I know I've chided you in the past about your "demonic stripper this" and "demonic stripper that", and I don't want you to take this instance as complete validation. I mean, even a broken clock is right twice a day. I'm only looking out for your best interests, I swear.

And NO, that doesn't make me a demonic stripper! Geez, you're just not getting it, are you?

Anyway, if you want to know what a myopic, asthmatic-looking Ken Foree has to do with demonic strippers, then you'll have to totally click this link right here and read my review of Devil's Den over yonder at Pretty/Scary.

Feb 25, 2007

Here he is...

Miss America...Michael Myers, all Rob Zombie-style.

What is there to be said? It's true to the original Carpenter version and at least he looks somewhat intimidating, which is more than you can say about the chubby troll-doll Michael we got in the last few Halloween sequels.

"Give me a cookie or I will CUT A BITCH!"

The remake news I'm most anticipating, however, is whether or not Zombie will include the little-seen "lost" footage from Halloween 5, wherein all the Loomis-Myers sexual tension finally comes to a head, so to speak. It's WHITE HOT!

I always had a sneaking suspicion that when he called Michael Myers "evil", Loomis really meant "a fine piece of man-meat". I mean, the dude was obsessed, you know?

Feb 24, 2007

chop chop

The teaser trailer for Adam Green's Hatchet is now online, and you can watch it right here.

The film, about some horny teens who run into a cuckoo nutso maniac deep in the heart of Louisiana swampland, is being touted (and is touting itself) as "old school American horror", a sort-of response to the glut of remakes (of both American and Asian descent) currently on offer. It's interesting that there's so much circle-jerking going on in Hollywood horror cinema right now that what appears to be a straight-up early-'80s style slasher flick seems like a fresh idea. By "interesting", I might mean "sad".

Hatchet will hit theatre screens on September 7.

Another terribly interesting point of interest is the shirt the dude on the left is wearing in this pic:

You New England-based hipsters out there might recognize the logo from Newbury Comics, a store that 1) sells more CDs than comics, and 2) can boast your very own Final Girl as an ex-employee. As Newbury Comics gets a shout-out, I suppose I'm pre-disposed to liking Hatchet. In fact, it's almost as if I made the movie myself, isn't it? I think we can all agree that it's totally just like that.

Feb 22, 2007

What happens in Vegas...

The teaser trailer for the new Resident Evil movie, RE: Extinction is live and ripe for the checkin' out, so check it out.

THRILL! to the computer-generated sands covering the Las Vegas cityscape!
WONDER! if there will actually be zombies in this installment!
PULL! up your pants!

I'm not going to lie.

1) It looks pretty terrible.
2) I don't care that it looks pretty terrible- I'll see it anyway, for you see, I'm a huge nerd for all things Resident Evil.

This movie series is ultra-cheesy fun, and I actually think the first film is fairly underrated. But this newest installment...a skanked-up Milla Jovovich roundhouse-kicking gorked-out zombies in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland is just too good to pass up, no? I mean...look at all the hyphens I used in that sentence! Surely that bodes well for the movie.

Feb 21, 2007

Outward Bound...for DOOM!

While watching the newly-released survivalist slasher flick Wilderness, I was struck by sudden flashbacks to my grade school film strip/movie days. I’m not insinuating, of course, that Eastern Point Elementary was ever set upon by a chainsaw-wielding cuckoo nutso slasher killer bearing a grudge...rather, it was the let’s send these troubled youths out into the wild for some character building! plot of Wilderness that got me thinking about all those Outward Bound movies we were forced to watch back then. I don’t know what exactly I was supposed to get out of watching troubled youths play trust games in the woods, but what I did get out of it was the thought “Self-esteem builder or no self-esteem builder, I’d rather set my face on fire and then put it out with a hammer than walk across a fucking rope bridge.”

Yes, even 11-year-old Final Girl used such foul language. And honey, believe me, you don’t even want to know the swear words I uttered concerning that movie we had to watch about cranberry farms. Anyway, on to the movie at hand...

A group of youth offenders are sent to The Island when the weakest member of their pack commits suicide after enduring nearly constant bullying.

No, I don’t mean the group is forced to sit through a screening of the 2005 Michael Bay crapfest The Island. Two wrongs don’t make a right, now, do they? What I mean is, the kids and their leader Jed (Sean Pertwee, of Event Horizon and Dog Soldiers) head to an actual uninhabited island to learn some lessons, bond, and get straightened out. Considering that they usually spend their days in a depressing cinderblock room, however, camping out and frolicking amongst the trees and rivers didn’t seem like much punishment to me, but whatevs.

During a walk, the boys come across some Blair Witch-style totems dangling from branches; as if that wasn’t enough to convince them they’re not alone on the island, they soon discover another campsite. Before you can say “What the--?”, we learn that there’s a second group of youthful offenders getting back to nature on the island as well, this one an all-female contingent led by ex-Special Forces Superstar Louise (Alex Reid, of The Descent and Arachnid).

"Damn...where the hell did I put my dreamcatcher?"

Louise and Jed decide that the groups should maintain a healthy distance, lest any troubled youthful hormones kick into overdrive and lead to troubled youthful trouble, if you know what I mean.

Umm…I mean sex.

The sex happens anyway, and when Callum (Toby Kebbell) comes across the very bloody, very dead body of a vagrant living on the island, the groups merge into one. Jed presumes Callum to be the killer, but Louise gets her Murder, She Wrote on and notices there’s big bite marks on the body. Hmm. Odd, that. Callum never bites people at home.

Soon enough another boy in the group goes missing; when his disembodied arm is spotted floating downriver, Jed and Louise decide enough’s enough and it’s time to head back to the mainland. Before they can even roll up their sleeping bags, however, the group suddenly finds itself under attack by an unseen archer.

A scene from Alex Reid 2: The Blondening

Jed gets pinned down and then out from the trees comes charging the source of the mysterious bite marks: it’s Hidden Archer’s Trusty Squadron of Elite Killer German Shepherds! Alas, poor Jed. I knew him, Horatio. No really, I do mean poor Jed- in a goretastic sequence, the vicious dogs set to chompin' him up, or “Le Munch-Munch”, as the French call it.

"I suppose you're all wondering why I've called you to this meeting..."

Louise isn’t long for the world either, as not even her Special Forces training can withstand the big bitey dogs. Sadly, she ends up pitched over a cliff, but at least she takes one of the bastards with her.

With the authority figures dead, the kids are completely on their own- will they band together to survive the onslaught and find a way off the island?

I know, I know…you’re thinking “Well, doy, of course they will. Stacie, haven’t you ever seen a horror movie before? Come on, the ragtag group of survivors always overcomes their differences to work together. I mean, really…what the fuck? You act like you’re all big, you’re all “I’m so big and I’ve seen this and I’ve seen that and horror horror blah blah swear word.” Pfft. It seems painfully obvious that you’ve never even seen a zombie movie, or you wouldn’t be asking if the survivors would band together. Man, you don’t know anything. And what’s with that outfit? And your hair? It’s called a brush- you should look into it. Ugh, why do I even read Final Girl? I am so Audi FiveThoudi. You suck!"

OK, first of all, I think you’re totally overreacting. Second, let's ease up a little on the italics, OK? It makes you seem terribly hostile. And third, I’ll have you know that the kids don’t band together against a common enemy in Wilderness. These are bad kids, after all, and they stay bad. True to character, they’re each only looking out for numero uno, and oftentimes they’re more of a threat to each other than outside forces are. So there.

And what’s wrong with my hair?

The unexpected (yet realistic) group dynamic is just one of the things I liked about this movie; then there’s also the approach taken to the subject matter. Essentially, Wilderness is a straight-up slasher flick, as it rather stringently adheres to the “rules” of the genre: an event early on in the story sets up a revenge plot later on, a group of teens is trapped in an isolated location, adults are ineffective or altogether absent, the killer has a signature weapon… it’s little more than a fill-in-the-blanks procedural on the surface. The film, however, manages to simultaneously be comfortably familiar and refreshingly original, thanks in large part to director Michael Bassett.

Bassett, you see, isn’t a product of Hollywood, and neither is Wilderness: both come courtesy of the new wave of British horror. Because of this, there’s a different sensibility brought to the proceedings, even to this most time-worn subject matter. It doesn't feel slick, overly stylized, or as if everyone involved is thinking "franchise money gimme gimme gimme!" This isn’t boardroom terror by committee- this is the plain and gritty horror of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s basic, it’s simple…and it works. While Wilderness isn’t a perfect film- it falters some in the third act as the “hunter becomes the hunted” and all that- it’s a hell of a lot better than yet another shitty remake or insufferable sequel, and I was thoroughly entertained.

The stalking sequences are pretty top-notch- the simple sound of a whistle, indicating an imminent dog attack, was a technique used particularly well. Those who like their horror bloody will be pleased with the gore content: this movie is pretty fucking gross at times. Again, I refer you to “Le Munch-Munch”. Once the group is under attack, the action doesn't let up much throughout the rest of the film.

While the more experienced actors in the movie, Reid and Pertwee, are killed off fairly early on, the younger cast also does a serviceable job- particularly Stephen Wight as Steve, the most troubled troubled youth. Speaking of familiar faces in the film getting killed, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the demise of Louise here and the demise of Beth in The Descent. Perhaps Alex Reid has found her niche, and every character she plays will end up with a touching death scene in a bloody pile whilst wearing a dark tank top.



So, Wilderness…it’s a new slasher flick that’s like an old slasher flick but doesn’t feel like a slasher flick you’ve seen ten million times before. Got that? Good. Check it out. I give it 7.75 out of 10 no really…what’s wrong with my hair?s.

Feb 20, 2007

Casting off

The remake of Prom Night is gearing up for a 2008 release. Brittany Snow has been cast as Kim Hammond, the role originally made famous by Jamie Lee Curtis. Brittany Snow is apparently this person...

...and beyond that I can't tell you much, except I assume that mascara is one of her favoritest things evarrr.

Let's face it, a Prom Night remake doesn't sound like a terrible idea- the original makes me sort of nostalgic (it's an '80s slasher, after all), but really we all secretly know it's not a very good movie. I mean, the killer has a fucking to-do list. What the original has over the remake, however, is that bitchin' disco dance scene. I loves me a clapping circle and light-up floor!

Meanwhile, the cast list for the much-maligned Halloween remake is just killer. Names attached include Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Dee Wallace Stone, Crazy Ol' Clint Howard, and...Adrienne Barbeau. I almost don't even care if the movie sucks with Adrienne Barbeau attached. I mean...it's Adrienne Barbeau. In a horror movie. What more do you need? All Rob Zombie needs to do now to guarantee me seeing the flick in a theatre is to give Tom Atkins a role somewhere in there.

Feb 19, 2007

Film Club: The Exorcist

Though long considered "the scariest film ever made", it's not hard to argue that William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973) is perhaps the greatest horror film ever made. 30+ years after audiences passed out or fled theatres in fright, The Exorcist retains its visceral power and, even beyond the shocking effects, the film stands as one of the finest cinematic studies of man and his place in the universe.

In a lengthy prologue set in Northern Iraq, we meet Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an aged Catholic priest participating in a massive archaeological dig. Merrin unearths a statue bearing a demonic face- the statue's meaning (and whether it portends good or evil) is never revealed; almost immediately, however, Merrin finds himself not only surrounded by eerie omens (the hearse-like carriage, the dog fight, the stopped clock...) but also face to face with another demonic statue. The image of Merrin and the statue squaring off across a rocky divide is one of the most important (and artistic) shots in the film.

In that single image, Friedkin sums up the theme of the film in its entirety: there are forces at work that are larger than ourselves; there is good, there is evil, and mankind generally finds itself somewhere in the middle, struggling for identity. I've labeled the picture to help you wrap your head around this lofty notion.

While many consider the opening Iraq sequence to be dull and completely extraneous, I find it to be quite the opposite. The questions raised- what exactly has Father Merrin unearthed? What does the statue represent?- remain unanswered at the film's end. In fact, thanks to an unusual narrative timeline, we don't even learn that the old man in Iraq is Father Merrin until much later in the picture. The Exorcist does not present a rational, ordered universe; if anything, it leaves the viewer feeling rattled and uncertain, a feeling exemplified in the opening reel.

From Iraq, the action moves to Georgetown where the actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is in the midst of filming a movie. She's set up house with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair), by all accounts a happy, healthy 12-year-old.

After finding a Ouija Board in the basement, Regan begins communicating with someone she calls "Captain Howdy". Before long, Regan begins acting, to put it mildly, unlike herself: she mouths obscenities that make me look like a prude, she's physically abusive to her mother, she suffers uncontrollable seizures, she can...uh...move large furniture using only her mind, and she infamously masturbates violently with a crucifix.

During countless visits to various doctors, Regan is subjected to myriad painful, invasive medical and psychiatric tests. Despite all the spinal taps, EEGs, blood tests, and psychological exams, however, there is no accounting for the changes in Regan. Where science has failed, perhaps religion can help: an exorcism is suggested, and while Chris doesn't want her daughter treated by a "witch doctor", Regan's condition worsens and she's left with few options. She seeks the aid of Father Karras (Jason Miller), a psychologist and priest who has lately been questioning his faith.

Karras is reluctant to offer any help beyond the psychiatric, but after spending some time with Regan (now strapped down in her bed), he determines that an exorcism is indeed in order. Together, Fathers Karras and Merrin face down the demon possessing the young girl, a demon who claims to be Satan himself. During the long ceremony, Merrin's heart eventually gives out and he dies. Karras loses control and, giving up on the bible, begins to pummel Regan. He commands the demon to "take him instead", a request which the demon quickly obliges. Karras regains his humanity long enough to leap out Regan's window and, after falling down those long, long steps, he dies, taking the demon with him.

Regan is soon a regular 12-year-old girl again, retaining no memories from her ordeal, and she and her mother quietly leave Georgetown.

Ask anyone about The Exorcist and most likely their reply will deal with the shocking moments: the pea soup, the head spin, the levitating, the crucifix masturbation, the mothers sucking cocks in Hell. These images become indelible once seen not only because they're completely inappropriate, but also because of the way Friedkin presents them: matter-of-factly and believably. Friedkin's camera is a stoic, objective observer throughout the entire film, taking a documentarian, unsentimental stance. From the exotic landscapes of Iraq to the monstrosities in the doctor's office to the final showdown in Regan's bedroom, the director establishes a methodical, removed approach to the proceedings- there's no commentary, he simply presents events as they unfold. For all the "fireworks" in the final reel, The Exorcist is remarkably not an exploitative or manipulative film.

The distance from which we see Regan undergoing her medical tests, for example, heightens our innate fear of invasive medical procedures. As Regan cowers and shakes, a tiny figure beneath massive, clanking machinery, we genuinely feel for her and her mother. Sympathy for both of them is hugely important to the proceedings, and Friedkin evokes that reaction in the audience without telling us we should feel sympathetic. It's a subtle distinction that points to the masterful hand at work.

This detached view, accompanied by a very slow build to the climax, also makes the outrageous events that transpire seem realistic. Regan's transformation takes place over at least an hour in the film- she gradually becomes more grotesque in appearance as she becomes more violent. Had she simply gotten out of bed one day all crusty and wild-eyed, the audience would pull away immediately. It's a lengthy evolution, though, and this allows for a suspension of disbelief to an extent that's rare in film. By the time Regan is going head-to-head with Father Merrin, we believe she really can levitate and spin her head around 360 degrees- that makes for an incredibly effective horror movie experience.

For my money, the most shocking moment in the film isn't the levitating or the head spin, but rather it's a small one: Regan still looks and sounds like a normal young girl and the cause of her behavior is still assumed to be a brain lesion. In the throes of particularly violent and obscene fit, however, Regan lies back on the bed and this happens:

We also hear, briefly, the raspy voice of the demon, and we finally know that this is not a simple brain lesion. There's some evil fucking juju at work here, and it's terrifying.

I'm not sure why the religious community has always been so up-in-arms over The Exorcist; has there ever been a more religious, moral film? Science and psychiatry fail the MacNeils- it's religion that saves them, despite the fact that they hold no religious beliefs. Father Karras questions his faith throughout the film, only to rely solely on his faith in the end. The Exorcist was made during one of the most turbulent eras in American history- the 'peace and love' ideals of the 1960s were over, the Vietnam War was raging, an energy crisis was just over the horizon- and one could easily read the film as presenting a solution to those societal ills: getting right with God. In tough times, many people turn to religion for solace and that's exactly what happens here. Take that idea to the extreme, and one could reason that the film allegorically presents rediscovering a "moral code" as the answer to burgeoning troubled teen years. Is your child wantonly cussing, masturbating, and acting out? Get that child some morals, pronto!

Audiences are largely divided into 2 camps: those who find The Exorcist scary, and those who don't. Personally, I fall decidedly in the former; the sounds and images in this film still burrow under my skin so deep I need to actively think about other things after I've watched it. How awesome is that? What else could I ask for in a horror film?

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Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for The Film Club Coolies!

$7 Popcorn
Chadwick Saxelid

Feb 17, 2007

Defenestration Week: The End

Poor nameless girl teen who has sex in Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood- too bad she didn't realize that sex always leads to defenestration.

OK, so she has a name- it's Robin (Elizabeth Kaitan). By the 7th installment of the Friday franchise, the names don't really matter beyond the hero/heroine, do they? Actually, that probably applies to all the Friday films. That's just how they roll. Nothing wrong with that!

If you cruise over to Pretty/Scary today, you'll find a little something called Goin' Down: The Pretty/Scary Guide to Cave Movies by a little someone called me. It's an easily-digestible way to tell the differences between all the caving flicks of 2005; you also get to read SuperHeidi's funny picture captions. You know, if my guide can prevent even one person from seeing The Cavern, then I'll feel I've truly done some good during my time on this big blue and green marble.

While I hope to steer you all away from that cinematic debacle, however, I also hope to push you directly into watching The Exorcist for Monday's installment of the Final Girl Film Club. We'll all gather, hold cyber-hands, and ruminate on the things Father Karras's mother does whilst she's in hell. It'll be awesome!

Feb 16, 2007

Defenestration Week: Day 5

Hmm. Guess I stumped everyone yesterday by featuring Miriam (Susan Ruttan) from Bad Dreams as our Peter Pan wannabe.

It's alright if you didn't solve the mystery- don't beat yourself up over it. No really, please, it's not a big deal. You don't have to impress me all the time, you know, I'll like you anyway...and besides, it's not a very good movie. It does, however, feature Jennifer Rubin, Dean Cameron, and Bruce Abbott, so in some way it's an '80s classic regardless of the quality.

I don't want everyone all depressed for the weekend, though, so let's take the train back to EasyTown for our final window-diver, shall we?

NAME THAT DEFENESTRATION!

And DON'T FORGET! The Final Girl Film Club meeting for The Exorcist is nigh- I'll be talking about it on Monday. I hope you join in the Pazuzu-flavored fun and give it a view. All the cool kids will be watching The Exorcist this weekend!