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!

Mar 13, 2008

Why horror?

During a conversation about (sigh) "torture porn", a friend mentioned she'd heard of the film Amateur Porn Star Killer. She wanted to know...well, I guess she wanted to know what it was all about and if it really was as notorious as she'd read. The hitch, though, is that she doesn't watch horror movies. Her suggested solution to that problem is that I could watch the movie and tell her all about it. I said I'd think about it, but I'm really not a fan of the brutal stuff and watching people suffer doesn't give me a thrill.

I did think about it. Eventually I sent my friend an email including the following passage:
[T]he other day I spotted Amateur Porn Star Killer amongst Co-Habit-Tron 3000's movies, remembered you had mentioned it, and then I thought about watching/reviewing it. I decided to first check out some other reviews of it to see what I would be getting myself into (conclusion: not well made (perhaps purposefully), lots of graphic sex (with a "13 year old"! yay!), and ultimately not a good movie)...which led to discovering that there are far, far worse films on the market than APSK- far worse than Hostel or Captivity or whatever could hope to be. Reading about the depravity of these films sent me into a downward spiral regarding the state of the human condition, what people will make- and watch- for 'entertainment'...and had me questioning my taste in entertainment and wondering whether or not I should, in fact, enjoy horror movies so much.
I go through this...crisis every once in a while. Why the fuck do I like horror movies? Do I really want to see some teenager stabbed to death? How is that "fun"? Obviously, these crises never turn me off of horror for good (insert terrible Al Pacino in Godfather III impression here)- though my friend takes credit for sending me into this particular crisis and she's wearing it like a merit badge- and the next thing you know I'm adding Twitch of the Death Nerve to my Amazon Wish List. Maybe it's better to question one's own tastes from time to time. Maybe this example speaks to my conscience, speaks to the fact that I'm not completely jaded and cynical, and silences the argument that horror movies completely desensitize everyone to all horrors, real and imagined.

How fitting, then, that this week, when I'm in the midst of therapy sessions with myself, that I go to a screening of the Funny Games remake.

I haven't seen the original version- in fact, I'd never seen a Michael Haneke film before this week. Given my then-current state of mind regarding horror and brutality and violence, I was reticent to go see this one; the story of a family suffering brutality after their summer home is invaded doesn't necessarily get my juices flowing. But then, Tim Roth is in it and I haven't seen him in ages. But then, Naomi Watts is in it and to be honest, I'd pay to watch her in a film where she does nothing but insult me for 90 minutes...maybe even if it co-starred Paul Reiser. But then, trusted sources have told me to check out Michael Haneke.

I had no idea what to expect from Funny Games. Beyond the half-sentence plot summary I gave you above, I didn't know anything about it...well, other than the fact that Haneke remade his own film.


I've never seen anything quite like this, and I'm still reeling from it days later. The film exists to push the audience, to force the audience to examine their relationship with violence and their desire to witness on-screen violence as entertainment. Though the movie as a whole speaks to these notions, Haneke uses several clever- and, at times, maddening- devices to push buttons. The most obvious examples occur when Haneke has characters break the fourth wall to ask the audience what they want to see. It's a slap in the face- not that I'm complaining. I think people need their buttons pushed in a smart way; I think, as I said earlier, that people should question why they want to see people get hurt on-screen. Most people don't enjoy being forced into self-reflection, however, and I'm expecting most audiences aren't going to enjoy Funny Games.

Odd word choice, that: "enjoy". Did I actually enjoy Funny Games? No, absolutely not. I didn't "enjoy" it at all. I marveled at the acting. I was astounded by what I was seeing. I took notes on Haneke's storytelling techniques. This, however, is one of the toughest films I've ever had to sit through...mind you, Haneke doesn't really show us any of the brutality. The aftermath- and we do see the aftermath- of the violence tends to be the raw emotional aftermath. You don't need to see a damn thing to feel for this family; it's mostly a dance of words, of anticipation, expectation, and tension.


I commented afterward that I loved the fact that there was no explicit violence, that I could react so very strongly without it. Would actually seeing a helpless character get punched in the face have made me even more sympathetic? No, I don't think so. My viewing companion, however, was disappointed by the lack of explicitness. This shocked me, and we ended up talking about why she felt that way- which is, at least in part, the point of the film.


Horror fanboys and girls who have been seeing posters for the film slathered all over genre websites will perhaps hate this film. There's no "pay off" like there is in, say, Hostel. Most people who want the violence and the gore but find none aren't going to say "Hmm. Why do I feel the need to see it? Why the bloodlust?"...they're going to go home and take in another viewing of Hostel. Or Saw MCMXLV.

Whether or not that sounds like you, maybe you should go see Funny Games when it's released tomorrow. I can't remember when I've been so profoundly affected by a film, horror or otherwise.

*screengrabs pinched from My New Plaid Pants, who's been looking forward to this movie forever.

63 comments:

Meg said...

I would definitely recommend you rent the original version of this film (which stars Ulrich Muhe, who was amazing in "The Lives of Others"). I haven't seen the new version, but the original is quite brilliant. I'd be curious to hear how it compares to the new one, too.

Fox said...

I tried re-watching the original a few months ago in anticipation for the remake, but I couldn't get through it.

I think it was for the reason you expressed: that it was one of the toughest films to sit through. Trying to sit through it AGAIN was not fun, and I doubt I will see the remake b/c of that.

Like you said, *Funny Games* is impactful, and it is unique in it's ability to provoke violent reactions without showing much violence. (One central extreme scene - which I won't spoil for people - expresses this the most).

Having said that, in hindsight, I think *Funny Games* doesn't have the lasting power of a *Straw Dogs* or *A Clockwork Orange* - films that I think are similar in their exploration of the audience's reaction to violence on screen.

But maybe I'll end up seeing the remake afterall. I love Tim Roth, and I'm curious if the remake is almost shot-for-shot like the original (the screenshots seem to lead-on that it is...). At the same time, I'm getting sick of feeling sickened when I leave the theater these days.

John Barleycorn said...

I'm not into the whole torture-porn thing by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn't find the original difficult to withstand. In fact, I found it relentlessly BORING.

The acting was horrible. The dialogue was shit. The breakage of the 4th wall pissed me off. And the pace was like a dying dog crawling along the breakdown lane of a busy highway.

It was one of those movies that needed music to build tension but had no music at all.

The scene that totally turned me off happened at hour one, I believe. One of the guys was sitting on the couch watching television. We watch him watch television. It took forever. Finally I just shut the fucking thing off. I can watch television by myself; I don't need to see someone else do it.

Pax Romano said...

Thanks for the honest review of this film. I saw the original a few years back, and while I appreciated it for its style, I can't say that I liked it. In fact, I sort of despised it.

Needless to say, I'll skip the remake.

Stacie Ponder said...

The television scene was interestingly shot. From left to right, we see the endlessly flicking remote, the TV taking up a good portion of the frame, then Ann (Watts) on the right edge of the screen, bound and crying.

Obviously the point of this was to illustrate the killer's callous indifference, but I was jolted when, after a moment, I realized that hey- there's a woman tied up and in pain right there and I'm watching the fucking television.

I don't know, it just worked for me.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh and for those who HAVE seen the original, apparently this is so close that to see it might be a worthless endeavor aside from curiosity's sake. And Tim Roth and Naomi Watts.

Naomi Watts is fucking brilliant.

David Lee said...

I figured out fairly early on that it's not horror movies in general I enjoy so much, it's monster movies specifically. I prefer my horror movies with an element of the fantastic. The closer they are to "reality" the less I'm attracted to them.

Wes Fierce said...

I keep deleting comments that I *almost* post here because my responses are so passionate that I know im going to upset someone. But, im not interested in antagonizing a debate, so I just dont post it :P

To summarize in as few words as possible; Ive also been toiling over that very same question "Why horror?", for the past week. August Underground vs. Murder-Set-Pieces. Guinea Pig 2. Michael Pitt in Bully.

JA said...

Weird, Stacie! I just spent a chunk of this afternoon writing up a big honking post on Funny Games and my anticipation for it (a link, just cuz), and you went and saw it!

FG (the original) is a film I could - and have - talk about endlessly. I don't even think it's a perfect film, or Haneke's best film, but it's just such a raw scream of anger directed straight at the viewer. It fascinates me. And Haneke's films are some of the few that I'll get passionate, to the point of wanting to smack someone, about. FG specifically - I've gotten in let's say spirited arguments about it. I don't know why - I know haneke's films aren't for everyone, and FG is meant to make the viewer angry; Haneke's on record several times saying he wants people to walk out of the theater in the middle of it.

Like I said... I could go on and on and on about it.

One thing I have to say: one of my favorite things in Haneke films are the excrutiatingly long takes where little is happening. There's a shot in the original FG thatt is literally 10 minutes long, and the camera is basically static, and it makes me cry every single time I see it.

JA said...

I'm working hard to curtail myself here (and failing), but one MORE thing, my most important point that I forgot to even say: SOOOOO happy you liked the movie, Stacie! ("liked" being relative here of course). I was worried we were gonna have to get into a throwdown... ;-)

JA said...

Oh my god, will I shut up? One last thing! I swear! I highly highly recommend you watch Benny's Video, Cache, and The Piano Teacher next. In that order, I think. They're all just so fucking genius.

Bill Walsh said...

I'm with David Lee. I enjoy horror that's not predicated on blood and guts a lot more than other kinds. As I've said before, I'm really not even a slasher movie fan, but I hang around Final Girl because Stacie's such a face-off-rocking writer.

The question of voyeuristic complicity in screen violence is interesting. Hitchcock did some great stuff along those lines (Psycho, Rear Window). However, a movie that has one of the most gut-punching endings in that regard is The Last Seduction by John Dahl.

HERE BE SPOILERS

He pulls the great trick of having this complete amoral sociopath of a character (brilliantly played by Linda Fiorentino) do increasingly evil stuff in order to get some money she thinks is hers. And at the end... she gets away with it. Just drives off in a limo destroying the last piece of evidence that could tie her to the murder she's framed her ex for. It's the triumph of evil, and it so up-ends your expectations of the restoration of order, the punishment of the wicked, etc., in that type of crime story (or film noir in general ,which it superficially resembles) that it's fairly stunning.

END O' SPOILERS

But, yeah, how 'bout that Naomi Watts? Too good.

The Filth said...

I've seen the original and can't say I want to see remake. I might just have a bad taste in my mouth for shot for shot remakes, but I don't see much of a point to it. Bringing it to a new audience, sure but the first is just 10 years old. And if it's a case of bringing it to a wider audience due to the fact that it's a foreign film, well then it just seems like a cash grab.

It really reminded me of Blair Witch in that I fell in love with the concept and then when I finally saw the film I was a let down in terms of execution. There are a lot of thought provoking moments, obviously, but I don't watch movies to think about the nature of evil and so on. That's why I don't watch the news and it's why I do love horror movies. The extremity of a situation is what sells me on a horror movie, as well as that oh so important suspension of disbelief. This movie had neither. It felt like I was invited to watch something strictly designed to upset me through its realness. And I am aware that was the point, but again that's not why I watch movies.

I completely agree with you Stacie, I can't say that I "enjoyed" this movie (well, the original) but I will applaud the director for accomplishing what he set out to do. All that being said, the masochist in me will probably end up checking it out. If I can sit through Cannibal Holocaust just to say I did, why not?

serial catowner said...

Uh, no. You are not watching real people react to the off-screen horror you didn't see. You are watching actors, who will laugh and joke after the shoot, so what you have just seen is nothing followed by nothing.

You want to see people who have witnessed terrible things you did not see, go to a hospital and sit in the lobby. Watch the nurses come off shift.

I watch a movie to see something. If it's a movie about boats, I want to see boats. If it's a movie about storms, I want to see storms. If it's a movie about things that should really scare me, well, it could be the Oval Office with the Boy Fool playing at Prezident, but I can get that from the telly. If it's going to be really big bugs, show me some really big bugs.

This really irritates me. The director says "It is so much scarier if we leave it to your imagination", but what they mean is "Do you have any idea of what good stuntpeople cost these days, or how the censors will rate that scene if we show it?"

And it gets worse- now, because there is actually nothing scary in the movie, everything has to be inflated by a factor of ten- it's not just one person who doesn't die, but ten, because, that is ten times scarier. Etc etc so that something that was just a little rabbit pellet to begin with becomes a big pile of cow poo. Jason quite improbably lumbers through the landscape like a Sherman tank while we, the audience, think "Try a 155-mm howitzer- try a dive bomber- send in the Marines". Enough already. It becomes comedy, not horror, and that's only good if someone intended for it to happen.

Well, you asked. Kinda.

RD said...

I Netflixed the original last year after reading someone's list of 'Top 10 horror movies you've never heard of.' It was by far one of the most intense viewing experiences I've had in a while. I consider myself a bit of a gorehound and am at times disappointed when the camera cuts away. This movie was different. It didn't need gore to get its point across. The cold, unfeeling nature of the tormentors was frightening enough. I feel it's one of the most deftly handled thrillers ever made. Do I think it's perfect? No. There's a point near the end that, while I understand the filmmaker's reasoning, took all the steam out of the film for me. I'll probably see the remake because of Watts & Roth and to see how it compares with the original.

Stacie Ponder said...

Catowner, I'm not sure to whom you're directing your comment- me, or the commenter before you.

That said, I can't really respond to the first part of your comment. Obviously, Funny Games is not a documentary. I don't enjoy watching (or have any desire to watch) real-life atrocities or have them described by those who were there. So...umm...I know Naomi Watts didn't really see awful things and now I'm watching her cry about it. She was faking, she did it well, she's a great actress, and I can be deeply emotionally affected by such make-believe. Her performance was good enough that it elicited a response out of me based solely on her reaction.

While what is "scary" is, by and large, subjective, I strongly disagree with your statement "The director says "It is so much scarier if we leave it to your imagination", but what they mean is "Do you have any idea of what good stuntpeople cost these days, or how the censors will rate that scene if we show it?" Would The Haunting have been as scary if we ever saw anything, or was the not knowing what was behind the door what ratcheted up the tension and left viewers cowering? I guess that's all a matter of opinion. Some people don't find The Haunting scary whatsoever.

Funny Games, however, isn't meant to be "scary", which is why I figure horror fans, who have been reading about this on horror websites for months, are going to be disappointed. It's not a horror movie...maybe it's horrifying, which, to me, is different.

Anonymous said...

I've only seen the original, but hated it - condescending stuff made by and for people who don't "need" to see it, but like to have their prejudices confiremd every once in a while. The acting, cinematography, etc. are great, but that only adds insult to injury in this case. The soundtrack probably sums it best - decent folks listen to classical music, degenerates to metal and to get John Zorn (not sure who did the music in the remake) to create the "metal soundtrack" (since the real stuff would be beneath Hanecke) is probably the best illustration of the movie's overall attitude.

As for the whole "torture porn" thing - I love horror and hate all that "torture porn" stuff, but to me the difference is that in the case of a good horror movie it's the movie, resp. the villain, the scares, etc. that scare me, whereas in the case of "torture porn" it's the makers and the realization that I'm supposed to get off on the torture scenes I find scary.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I think as a general rule, people don't like to examine their relationship with violence. For most of us it digs in deeper than we're really comfortable with.

Which I think is one reason torture porn movies do as well as they do. They don't really expect or even allow for any self examination.

If the average person comes out of a movie like Saw shaken up, are they more likely to dig into why it shook them up, other than the horrific images?

Some do, certainly, but I'm willing to bet the average movie-goer won't. Self examination isn't exactly our strong point.

Anonymous said...

I saw the original on DVD last year: I didn't ENJOY it but admire and respect what Haneke did. I mean, unlike a lot of recent movies, I definitely have a strong opinion about it. But I have a question for you:

Did you see the movie preview with an audience of critics or ordinary movie viewers?

What was the audience response like?

FUNNY GAMES is a real button-pusher, and besides wanting to shame you for having positive feelings about watching violence, it shames the experience of enjoying watching violence as a group.

Evol Kween said...

haven't seen the remake yet, but the original Funny Games is among my favourite 'horror' films for all the reasons you highlight - the 4th dimensions aspect, the lack of explicit violence which actually makes the experience all the more uncomfortable. I saw it for the first time at a film festival out here, and I will never forget how the entire audience sat quietly watching the credits roll, taking in what they just witnessed.

And, I'm with JA - you HAVE to watch Benny's Video, like right now. It takes discourse on violence in the media etc to a whole 'nother level.

tricia said...

I felt the same way. It was making me so angry I thought about walking out. (Er, which would have been a poor choice considering I was reviewing it. Not to mention the act would have confirmed that I am, indeed, now old.)

But when you have such a strong reaction to a work, it can't be dismissed, can it? I don't think Haneke necessarily took the ruler to our wrists like he intended, but he did accomplish something.

(And yes, that's my official critical stance. Now I gotta sign off, because the MacArthur folks might be calling.)

Anonymous said...

"I'd never seen a Michael Haneke film before this week."

And this is a popular horror site!!!! Don't get me wrong, i like this site a lot, but it's so ironic that Final Girl represent the genre writers of this generation.

If you have an aclaimed horror film site and never seen a Haneke film is kinda like having a comedy film blog and never ever seen a Woody Allen film.

The original "Funny Games" is a clasic, a very important movie that questions our love for the grotesque. Why the media focus in dark side of people? Why we watch? Haneke is a true artist and he used cinema as an exorcism to the audience, the original "Funny Games" does what no other horror film does, is an transgresive experience, true art.

Final Girl you have a big responsability to watch all the Haneke films, please don't make think that you are like one of those drunk guys who like horror movies for the gore and camp.

Stacie Ponder said...

Well, anonymous, I think at least some of my writing here indicates that I like horror for much more than gore and camp- the post about Funny Games is a case in point.

I guess I should somehow be oddly complimented by your post, but let me just say this: I've never claimed to be (nor would I ever claim to be) any sort of expert in anything. I started this blog as a hobby, and it remains such. It's just a blog.

I'm incredibly honored that people stop by the site to read it, and I love the comments and conversation, believe me. However, I've never taken a writing class, a journalism class, or a film criticism class. Again, this is just my blog...which I started on a whim because I like to talk about horror movies.

At the same time, I don't think all of my opinions should be dismissed out of hand because I've just been introduced to a filmmaker. I want to seek out other films by Haneke, and maybe I'll write about some of them. I'm excited that I've discovered someone whose work interests me.

While I do love horror movies and I've been writing about them for a while, I certainly haven't seen every horror film under the sun. That's a good thing- I'm always looking for the new, even if it's old to you.

other anonymous, I saw this film at a press screening and it was pretty quiet throughout. Then again, press screenings are usually quiet because everyone is tired and cranky and they just wanna go home and they might not even be horror genre-specific journalists to begin with. Everyone stayed until the end, though, and I heard no conversation even as people were leaving.

Jenny said...

I think this film is basically a test for the audience. Usually with slasher flicks, the violence is over the top and gory.However, here, as you said, any murder or torture is barely shown. It's basically an experiment with emotion, really.

Rob said...

Funny, I just watched the original last night in preparation for the remake. Now I don't think I want to go see the remake.

I thought the original was great, by the way, and I love the cast in the remake, but I feel like I've essentially already seen it, and reviews of the remake by those who've seen both tend to bear this out. At this point it would be solely about seeing how the new cast does with the material. I'll catch up to it on DVD.

Incidentally, Haneke isn't only about rubbing our faces in the consequences of violence. It goes deeper. It's more about, what do you want from a film? Why are you mad when you don't get what you want? Why do you want anything from a film? And so on.

Matt Farkas said...

I had never even heard of Michael Haneke or FUNNY GAMES before this morning, so maybe I'm not the wordly sophisticated horror cineaste I imagine myself to be (or maybe I'm just more focused on '60s and '70s horror and exploitation and less interested in every new film that comes down the pike), but I can volunteer a few thoughts on your larger question regarding the viewers relationship to on-screen violence.

I do agree with several of Serial Catowner's points regarding the nature of film as a visual medium and how that affects the way stories are told within that medium. THE HAUNTING, to use your example, isn't effective simply because it forces you to use your big wonderful boundless imagination; it's effective because by not showing you something it introduces the element of doubt and uncertainty. Not every film will need to utilize this angle, however. Would you appreciate music more if you had to imagine the melody? Would you enjoy a painting more if it was simply a blank canvas with a card describing what you were supposed to imagine for yourself?

Horror films are, at their root, about fear; most pointedly about the fear of death. Blood and violence are not gratuitous elements in this type of story - they're thematically essential and right as rain, in much the same manner that songs are essential to a musical and jokes are necessary in a comedy. If some viewers watch a film because they have a disturbing fascination with carnage that is only because the film offers that as a formal ingredient, not because it's the point to simply revel in violent spectacle. Actually, I find most horror films fairly morally grounded (the good/evil dichotomy requires this to a certain extent). If a person wants to watch depictions of amoral, antisocial violence I would say watch an action film and consider the body counts and collateral damage depicted in those.

The fascination with horror is not born out of sadism, but rather springs from an affirmation of life itself - the value that we place on life by confronting our fears of it's destruction. This is the link horror has with sexuality, the direct means and expression perpetuating life, and a profound affirmation of an individual's continued vitality and health.

Lastly, I would mention a personal anecdote regarding my four-year-old daughter, who just yesterday requested that Mom and Dad show her "more scary stuff" - for her, Harryhausen films and the like - "because it's more exciting!" I was so thrilled to hear my pride and joy perfectly express, at such a young age, the appeal of the horror genre. A regular little Stacie Ponder in the making!

Love your blog!

repoman said...

I saw the original years ago and thought it was a great film. Like you, I can't say I "enjoyed" myself but sometimes that really isn't the point of the movie.

Which is what I think pisses more people off more than anything: walking out of a film feeling something other than entertained. It's a curse of American cinema to have a neatly wrapped ending that, for better or worse, ends on a high note. The killer gets it in the end, boy gets girl, and some sort of justice is served. Violence is entertaining, cruelty is funny, and we feel fine in the end for, hey, it was entertaining.

This isn't that film. Instead, this is more like the film that is the reality check for buying into those films too much. In a word: consequences. And if all of that wasn't enough, the ending is one big "fuck you" to the audience for sticking around to see it. After I saw the original, I did end up asking myself the tough questions on what I like, why I like it, and does it have an effect on me.

I'm not saying screen violence is bad or shouldn't be fun...but this is what's sometimes needed to balance it all out.

unclemike said...

I saw the original last year and really really...well, "liked" is probably not the right word, but maybe "appreciated" it is better. It really disturbed me and I immediately added the other Haneke flicks to my Netflix queue. I love movies that push my buttons and keep me thinking (Irreversible was another one).

I'm really looking forward to seeing this with an audience. Not because I think I'll get anything new out of it, but because I am very interested in experiencing the audience's reaction.

Felix said...

Actually the big twist in APSK is that she's fourteen. Not thirteen.

And I thought APSK was great, APSK 2 is better.

As for Funny Games, it seems like another glorified horror remake.

borehole said...

Man, I hate that "torture porn" label. Contra the horror-crit emphasis on gore, most of us don't get off on the stuff. Hell, most of us don't watch horror movies of any genre for what you'd call "fun." If a scary movie's good, it's hard to sit through. I'll probably never figure out the underlying psychology--endurance test? Facing one's own mortality?--but all my favorites are flicks that I was happy to see end.

Plus, Hostel and Saw get lumped together unfairly. I see 'em as almost opposites--Hostel made me suffer along with the characters (haven't seen the 2nd one), but the Saw movies piss me off 'cause they're just so glib about pain and death.

"...it's so ironic that Final Girl represent[s] the genre writers of this generation."

As a member of said generation, allow me to say this: We friggin' wish.

RP said...

In defense of not seeing Haneke referenced before on FG, I wouldn't consider Haneke a horror director any more than I would consider Kubrick a horror director. If this was a blog about European art house, then it would be a different story. While all of Haneke's films have horrific moments, none are exercises in the horror genre. His films are intense and meticulously constructed, each dealing with extremes in the human condition - some very realistic (The Piano Teacher, The Seventh Continent) and some a bit more fantastic (Time Of The Wolf, Funny Games).

When I saw Funny Games a decade or so ago, it startled me and scared me more than any other film I have ever seen. It's like the Shining or the Exorcist, in that just brief glimpses or thoughts of the film can give me cold chills.

Haneke deals in reality, he is often inspired by true events and treats his characters as real people making real decisions... Horror is fantasy. Funny Games may not be real, and may even have its moments of surrealism, but it is realistic and frightening. Its way of taking the power away from the audience is unmatched in any film I've ever seen It is also not exploitative in any way, unlike possibly brilliant but overtly shocking and exploiting films like the kind directed by Gaspar Noé, which in my mind boil down to better a directed and slightly more intelligent version of the oft tagged "torture porn."

To take pleasure in the pain of the family in Funny Games would be scary, but reveling in watching ditzy high schoolers meet their various ends in slasher flicks and applauding when the zombies finally get to munch on some flesh is merely light escapism. There is a difference.

Heather Santrous said...

I'm with FG to some degree. I'm someone that has also reviewed a lot of horror movies and have watched a lot more than I have reviewed. I consider myself a big fan of the horror genre but this is the first time I have heard of "Funny Games" and Michael Haneke.

I don't read everything on horror movies and most of my friends aren't what I would call fans of horror. To say FG or me, or anyone else that loves horror movies, knows everything about horror movies or knows about every good horror movie is assuming way to much.

As far as "torture porn" goes, I can't say that I am a big fan of the this subgenre but I have watched my share of it. I watch them to see how far they will push the effects. I guess to me, the whole point is that it isn't real. Sure it can really make me squirm because of how real it does look but at the end of the day I know that it wasn't real. No one actually got hurt or killed. No one actually got sliced up or whatever. That doesn't mean I would want to watch someone have to go through all of that. That would truely sicken me.

As much as I like good effects, it is often the films that leave it up to me to fill in the blanks that get to me the most. I much rather be scared instead of getting an uneasy feeling because someone is being tortured.

Anonymous said...

Wow!, can't belive how many people din't knew Haneke's work, i guess the remake is doing something right, put the master on the mainstream.

The original "Funny Games" got some hype back in the 90's thanks to Fangoria and other genre magazines, but Haneke reputation build up in the festival circuit, he was the director with the darker movies in Cannes and Venice (this guy had won more awards then all the horror filmmakers of the last 30 years put together).

Haneke's must see's:

"Time Of The Wolf" -An "I Am Legend" inspired scenario with a family lost in a post apocaliptic world.

"Cache"-A nightmare incursion on the invasion of privacy and domestic violence.

Cool Blog!

benz said...

I haven't seen this movie but the discussion reminds me of "The Cook the Thief his Wife and her Lover." (Speaking of Tim Roth.) Talk about people walking out during a movie. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1989. At the belly-button scene, at least a third of the audience left. I would say about half the audience was gone by the end. I've never seen that since. One or two people were literally crying. Of course we're talking about a mostly "art film" audience in a college town. Definitely not people expecting to sit through "Saw III" or whatever.

I think ultimately "The Cook" is about hedonism gone awry - pointed in the wrong direction, and I think there's a strong element of that in horror movies, especially vampire films. Also about the nature of good.

I was taking film classes at the time and had just recently sat through "Duetschland Blaiche Mutter". Talk about watching horrible things happen to people. No thanks. For me, there has to be something of the fantastic or supernatural. I would never go see "The Descent" (the scenario is too scary for me ha ha) but while reading Stacie's review I hit the term "bone dam" and was like "Wow Oh Cool Shit I wonder what that is?" And then I had this itch of curiosity. Mmmmm. That delicious itch of curiosity.

I struggle with the "Why Horror?" question too. Sometimes I like it dark and creepy and spooky and unexplainable.

Stacie Ponder said...

Just a quickie before I respond more in-depth to all the awesome conversation going on here:

"As for Funny Games, it seems like another glorified horror remake."

Well, I wouldn't make any assumptions before I see it...but since remakes are never ever "glorified"- if anything, they're almost universally maligned- if it IS, then we really ought to fucking celebrate!

Felix said...

Glorified remake as in they've done everything exactly the same and yet it's still getting praise up the bung hole.

Stacie Ponder said...

"Glorified remake as in they've done everything exactly the same and yet it's still getting praise up the bung hole."

Well, the praise up said bung hole is or isn't warranted depending on the viewer's opinions. I think it deserves the praise. And if the film hadn't been remade, there's a chance I never would have seen it. We can pointlessly go back and forth over the worth of remaking Funny Games (or ANY movie, for that matter), but in this instance it certainly is opening up a European arthouse film to a wider audience.

Matt Farkas, I love the story about your daughter. I get the feeling she'll love Jason and the Argonauts!

You've certainly given me a lot of food for thought, and I agree with most of what you said. I don't think the usual "horror" rules apply to Funny Games, however, and I think in this case what we don't see and how that makes us feel is the whole point.

I'm okay with sometimes struggling with my relationship with horror. I like that it's fun and escapist and cathartic- that's how I usually view it. But there's nothing wrong with having tastes and being aware of what one finds "entertaining". There's so many different types of horror film, and I'm not going to begrudge anyone for enjoying one type over another, even if it doesn't suit me.

I don't even know if I'm making any sense now.

I'm hoping more people see the film over the weekend and stop by to comment0 I'm incredibly curious about various audience reactions.

Felix said...

Stacie you're wrong.

Not really, I just wanted to end on a dramatic note like a movie.

You're wrong! The whole damn system is wrong!

Hehe.

Robert H. said...

All the major critics are pilin' on the hate for this... again.

Which only means that Haneke did it right... yet again.

I'm a fan of horror movies, but I admit that the slasher/giallo stuff never really did anything for me. Now with SAWs and HOSTELs and with autopsies now television fodder, FUNNY GAMES still is an effective button pusher, moreso than when it was first made - and people just hate getting their buttons pushed.

It'll be interesting what the boxoffice take will be if this gets a wider release - along the lines of a SAW flick.

Anonymous said...

Just because people react to it doesn't mean Funny Games is a good movie. Hanecke has stated that the only reason he remade the movies was his conviction that Americans lack cultural sophistication and are by nature far more inclined to enjoy violence than their European counterparts (many of whom disliked the original because Hanecke is such a condescending "holier than thou" type in the first place and has repeatedly called for stricter government control and grants and loans for "ethical valuable" productions to educate the primitive masses).

I believe your cultural background might have a lot to do with what you think of Funny Games and Hanecke -but from a European perspective he's about as likeable as Rush Limbaugh and knowing his stance on censorship, violence and media etc. I find it impossible to watch Funny Games (and we were forced to do so in highschool) without being annoyed - albeit not for the reasons Hanecke intended.

Anonymous said...

If you're "struggling" so hard with a question like 'Why Horror?', do those of us who are well-adjusted a favor and just stop watching the films, or read some books on the subject instead of wandering around in the dark about it. This is well-covered ground, so there's no need to project your insecurities on everyone else like Haneke. In the end, you don't need to feel guilty about what you enjoy as long as it doesn't hurt other people, or desensitize you to real-world suffering.


I admire Haneke's work, but the message of FUNNY GAMES isn't one that every person needs to be pummeled with. It's truly a case where the director seems to be laughing at you and screaming "WHY DO YOU KEEP HURTING YOURSELF" while pushing your own fist into your face.

Stacie Ponder said...

Anonymous comments are always the best comments!

How about this- if you don't want me to "project" my ill-adjusted "insecurities" onto you, why don't you do me- and yourself, obviously- a favor and stop reading what I write?

Have a super day!

JA said...

Ah, Haneke. he brings out the best n people.

I always thought that "well-adjusted" folk wouldn't feel the need to assert how "well-adjusted" they are by railing against someone asking legitimate questions. Guess I'm not very "well-adjusted" either!

Felix said...

robert h. by that logic, "Meet the Caddy" was brilliant since it received nothing but bad reviews.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"...those of us who are well-adjusted ..."

And here's me thinking that self examination was the hallmark of the well adjusted. Thanks for setting us straight Anonymous!

Anonymous said...

I like your blog in general, and this post was wonderful. Now I have to see that film, since I love pyschological horror movies. Have you ever seen the Bad Seed? It's spooky but cliched.

escandalosfilmsdiary@yahoo.com said...

Tp the anonymous that said this: "Just because people react to it doesn't mean Funny Games is a good movie"

People need to understand that art is not about good or bad, it's about exploring ourselves by reactions of someone else's ideas. Movies as art are meant to be for a small amount of people, movies as art don't need to fit in any categories, leave that to Freddy and Jason (love them both).

People forget that horror films used to be reaction pieces (FW Murnau, Buñuel, Cronenberg, Carpenter etc.), Haneke is using horror to explore our infatuation with violence, in the scene were he rewinds the film (in the original "Funny Games" I haven't seen the remake) it was a way to remind the audience that todays society manipulated violence with the big media power outlets, he fucked with our minds doing something that we never seen in a movie (out of the parody genre), saying:
"I can do what your 6 o'clock news do, am I pushing the evelope? or am I questioning your habits?"

Take it the way you wanted, the films that are trascendent are the ones that make you think, make you discuss, like El Topo, Eraserahead, Videodrome, Henry Portrait Of a Serial Killer or Funny Games, a movie that was made 10 years ago, in the birth of the internet explotion and reality tv, Haneke was a head of it's time.

Aarón Soto
NO MORE ANONYMOUS
http://escandalosfilms.blogspot.com/
http://cinemainc.blogspot.com/

escandalosfilmsdiary@yahoo.com said...

One more thing, this is a really nice blog.
Aarón Soto

Old Dark Housekeeper said...

Haneke sounds like he's pulling a Spitzer... those that throw the biggest fit are the ones that are the deepest into the kink.

Joe said...

I saw this last night. Ive seen the original and am well aware of Haneke's intent. I respected his idea in theory watching the first one. Though, I will admit to some bothersome feelings (again I his intent). The original film is worth seeing for that fact. However, for me after leaving the theatre I felt cheated. Nothing was particularly wrong or anything with this version. I will say the fact that the main 4 characters are so identifiable to from other films that I found it hard to go into the fantasy/reality mindset. Also, knowing what was to happen all along completely destroyed any sense of what I did "enjoy" about the original. Seeing it for a 2nd time only ruined the so-called vision as your feelings are already skewed.

Theposterformallyknownasanonymous said...

@escandalosfilmsdiary@yahoo.com :

Well, art might not be about being good or bad, but nevertheless there's good and bad art and Funny Games falls into the latter category for me.

I have some problems with your definition of art, but even ignoring that, Haneke isn't creating "art" to give people an opportunity to "explore ourselves" or reflect on our viewing habits and attitude towards fictional violence, he's "teaching" a very definite message and the one thing he doesn't want you to do is to make up your own mind. He made that very clear in his interviews (stating that whoever walks out of funny games doesn't need it whereas everyone that stays to the end is in dire need of an attitude adjustment) and that makes his movies not art, but propaganda (even if it's for a good cause).

I agree that his handling of the material is excellent, but that makes his approach just more repulsive to me (similar to the Riefenstahl movies I suppose) and also prevents exactly the kind of discussion and reflection you attribute to transcendent films.

Then again, I've always made it a point to watch movies, not films, so I might simply be the wrong target audience.

At least we can agree on one thing - excellent blog, Stacie.

Anonymous said...

after reading this I just want to say a few things

"and ultimately not a good movie)..."
I've read like 40 something reviews on this film and almost every single one was extremly positive so i wonder if you only came across the few bad ones. Before this film was released almost all reviews were positive, funny though, once it came out, is when I started seeing negative ones (as though it needed to be undiscovered to be great) but it still received many good reviews. Two: I would never conclude if a movie is good or bad w/o actually seeing it yourself.


"which led to discovering that there are far, far worse films on the market than APSK- far worse than Hostel or Captivity or whatever could hope to be." probably true, whoever said these were the most disturbing haven't seen many underground films.

"Reading about the depravity of these films sent me into a downward spiral regarding the state of the human condition, what people will make- and watch- for 'entertainment'...and had me questioning my taste in entertainment and wondering whether or not I should, in fact, enjoy horror movies so much." But back to APSK, if you've read any interviews w/ the director, he talks about exactly that, wanting to questions people's taste in films, which he found disgusting. This film was a way to draw people in with the intention of seeing sex and violence, and then presenting such a real life tragedy, that you feel sick for anting to watch such a thing. Maybe I'm not phrasing this exactly right, but I came across this , read it, and feel like you completely mis interrupted what this film was, having based in on a few reviews and not by the film or filmmaker itself.

btw, I think he even specially points out his disgust in torture porn and the exact films you mentioned "Hostel" and "captivity", I've seen some interviews on youtube you should check out.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks for the insights, anonymous. Who knows, maybe I'll check out APSK one of these days. It's a fuzzy line and one worth examining- when do these films become that which they're purporting to denigrate? I think Funny Games skirts the line, absolutely.

It seems as if APSK pales in comparison to stuff like August Underground and Scrapbook- I have no desire to watch those, no matter the message...if they even have one. I probably wouldn't have made it through FG (maybe I wouldn't even have gone to see it) if the violence was explicit.

Meh. I'm getting all jumbled up here.

Felix said...

Oh come on Stacie, for a woman who watches everything you're really finicky. APSK is great, it's not that torture porn crap. Give it a look.

Stacie Ponder said...

Hmm...I'd say that...I don't know, insulting me isn't the best way to get me to join your cause. But thanks for the recommendation.

serial catowner said...

Well, we used to say that terror films were about being scared, and horror films were about being appalled.

But being really scared comes and goes. In fact, it's not really a great experience, which may explain why most movies don't have a lot of it.

So the director mixes in other stuff, you know, sort of basting the emotional pudding that our mind is becoming watching the film.

My point is, I want the good stuff. I don't want the movie to be like a martini where you pour the vermouth in, pour it out, and then add the gin.

I'm not saying the director needs to show me people's entrails, or deplete further the nation's supply of stuff that flows and seems vaguely red, but does not in the least resemble blood. But it's a movie, dammit, not a radio show.

In general, I think a lot of directors miss a lot of good footage they could have with a tracking shot, and end up stuffing the film with marginal footage to fill out their time.

But maybe I'm just easily bored.

Felix said...

Finicky is an insult?! Did you grow up in the 1950's? :-P

Felix said...

No seriously, I didn't mean to insult you, all apologies. But seriously, do give it a chance, por favor.

Stacie Ponder said...

No worries, Felix. But actually, I grew up in the early 40s. You wouldn't know it by all the hip lingo I use here at FG, but I'm quite old. Cowabunga, dude!

Serial, I get what you're saying. I do think, though, that Funny Games is sort of its own thing and Haneke's choices to have most violence occur off-screen don't fall under the umbrella you're describing. He's very aware of what he's showing and not showing, and he wants you to be aware of it, too- it's not a cop out by any stretch.

Tim Bird said...

Wow, what a bunch of interesting comments.

Personally, I've never given my love of horror movies much thought. It's like asking myself why I like pepperoni on my pizza or why I have the friends that I do or why I like the color grey. Some things just seem to be the way they are. It's not like I watch horror at the exclusion of all other genres. The term "horror", just like "funny", seems to mean different things to different people. I have my preferences, sure, but I enjoy most of my trips to the theater regardless of the genre the film happens to be. Maybe I'm just shallow or easily entertained. I don't know art but I know what I like.

I've never heard of "Funny Games" before and when I saw the trailer I thought it looked interesting but I'd most likely wait for the DVD. After reading these posts I'm now going to see it as soon as I can. The reactions that everyone seems to be having reminds me of the way I felt after seeing "Requiem For A Dream". Both disturbed and thoughtful. (I could go into why I think Darren Aronofsky is one of the best "horror" directors working these days but I won't.) I'll definitely have more to say after I've seen and digested "Funny Games" and learned what I can about Haneke.

Mmmmm... pepperoni.

aderleth said...

It's okay, Stacie -- we all have to ask ourselves that question from time to time ("Why do we like this crap?"). I think in 99% of all cases it's harmless.

Ever think that there's a right way and a wrong way (read: creepy effing way) to like it?

Sorry. I'm in grad school and I sometimes get all Socratic on that ass.

Anyway, I stayed away from this one because that one kid (who was in "Hedwig" and "Murder by Numbers") gives me the jibblies. Love Tim Roth, but not enough to endure two hours of that eerie, pre-teen face.

A Case of You said...

Oh, Ms. Ponder. It was nice to hear someone who knows how to have fun also knows how to use her brain. I think watching Haneke's films (all of them... yes, I have seen them all) is sometimes like punishment. But in a good way. I learn things from watching his films. And I do think you should definitely see the original. There is more to be said about this remake in the context of the earlier version with Susan Lothar (who is also fantastic).

I surprised me to hear that you had never seen a Haneke film before. Cache seems to be up your alley (sort of). Personally, I will watch anything with Isabelle Huppert in it. Even that one where her son masturbates over her dead body. Hmm... I can't remember the name.

I like Haneke's desire to implicate the viewer, and he does this is a few of his films. He forces us to take responsibility for the things we consume.

And like you, I often find myself asking why I love horror movies so so so so terribly much. And like you, I end up dropping the questioning. I do this because, in the end, I know I would have to make the "socially responsible" decision and stop watching them. And then life would not be fun at all, and I would have to come up with a creative and painless way to commit suicide, so I could go watch horror movies in Heaven (if there were a Heaven).

But watching a movie like Haneke's doesn't make me feel as guilty as when I am in question mode and decide to watch The Funhouse (hmm....) because his film is about that implication. It is not pointless murder and violence.

I don't know, but I was happy to hear you'd seen it.

John said...

I feel you with the "torture porn" stuff... Last night, I remembered I had the Guinea Pig film series sitting around. I liked Mermaid in a Manhole (the 4th), so I thought I'd watch the first one or two before bed... As it turns out, the first one's a snuff film... Sweet dreams to you too movie.