October has been a great month for spooky cinema juicy enough to sink one's teeth into.
This week, I'm looking forward to Luca Guadagnino's remake of Dario Argento's 1977 thriller. When I first heard this would be a thing, I balked - the original is so good, still so fresh, has aged beautifully; why bother? Then I saw the trailer and it actively gave me goosebumps. Alamo Drafthouse will be doing an advanced screening on Halloween, and that's how I'll be Halloweening.
Now that I've already accomplished all the Ultraviolence I can handle.
Many years ago now, a beloved friend turned me on to a 1990's television show called Twin Peaks.
This show was a revelation for me.
I remember calling and asking her if I should just buy Season 2 (It was $5 at Big Lots). "NO. You have to watch the first season." Netflix had put it up about then. I watched the entire series all the way through three times within a month.
My mom was experiencing the beginning of what I now know would be the end of her life. Neurological disorder. Atypical neurology, misfirings of electricity. The show's challenge to so-called "objective" reality gave me a visual vocabulary that asked me to question what was happening in other realms. It ultimately contributed to everything I ended up studying while pursuing degrees in Philosophy and Filmmaking.
Through the years I've found that each successive viewing of the feature film lulls me back into the same state of disarmament. It also inspires that peculiar yearning to understand what lies beneath what is seemingly meaningless and cruel about reality to reveal something more deeply true about the human condition. And yeah, of course I have daddy issues. All of Western Civilization does. Speaking of Daddy issues....
Chapel Hill, NC
First, I have to say this was my first time attending a screening at this theater and don't know if I would return. I get irrationally rankled when I see a curved screen in a theater. Luckily, there weren't too many people there so I could pick a spot that almost made the screen appropriately flat.
No filmmaker more inspired me to learn the craft as much as Kubrick. Once I'd seen Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut, I felt I knew the power of movies and could dedicate myself to their study. Lolita competed as one of two movies which for years would be cited as my "favorite movie" (the other being Coppola's epic Apocalypse Now).
But The Shining terrified me. I'm not particularly sensitive to horror films - often, I find them far too lacking in substance to require much in the way of analysis. Not much to sink your teeth into. But that is a trope of genre and Kubrick was one of the first to show me how it could be done.
While Nicholson's performance is appropriate for the goal, I think what's most terrifying about the film is the concept of shining itself. It challenges objectivity and reason and linear time. The surrealistic elements of the film are perhaps the most horrifying aspects of the production. The woman in Room 237, the furry giving a blowjob, and, now that I'm older, something even deeper.
It has to do with collective consciousness as its spread over time. We know from the film that the hotel is known for the revelry of the rich and famous through time, and they can't get their kicks like the rest of us. They benefit from the finer - rarer - experiences of life through which they derive power and establish bonds amongst each other. Jack is simply the conduit of an attitude that illustrates the savage cruelty of the powerful. Here's Johnny, and Daddy, and Stanley. Every artist, too, makes the choice to defy the expectations of the masses to brave the wilderness of self valuation. There is something savage about this process.
I couldn't not attend this particular event, fond as I am of concepts like messiahs and evil. Surprisingly, I very much enjoyed Messiah, but I actually think I liked Basement even moreso.
Like any zombie-related phenomena, I attribute something akin to the anxiety that permeates unfamiliar rooms while imbibing a little too much THC. Individually, humans are not particularly threatening. But a hive mind, devoid of selves and circumstances and empathy, is a terrifying (and unfortunately, legitimate) prospect. Think, if you will, of being a single, sexually-viable female in the vicinity of a) a single male vs. b) a crowd of males. The energy feeds off itself, and feeds the crowd. It's a different order of fear. And of course, mix in a little of that all-too-primal urge to consume flesh and, voila. One must eat, but one does not eat oneself - one eats the Other.
One motif I particularly enjoyed in Messiah was the artist-as-conduit; artists open themselves to the world, and when that world is permeated by cruelty and violence, the artist may become insane as the senses are tapped, the mind is stilled and opened. Like any good father, this character attempted to shield his daughter from the inevitable. Like any wise woman, the protagonist couldn't help but seek to understand her father's condition, the results of his grief and isolation. Funny though unrealistic portrayals of relationships notwithstanding, this film was worth the cost of entry.
The real treat was Don't Look In the Basement, mostly because of the twist - which I anticipated - but it actually did surprise me that the ensemble of lunatics had been advised that the nice, pretty new nurse was herself a patient. Specifically, her good intentions seemed to impart to her a kind of lunacy. This was an unforgiving place. The kindness of the maiden contrasted the severity of the crone, who was really an enjoyable character start to finish. When it dawned on me that she was in fact a patient, I eagerly anticipated the reveal. On such a low budget, it really is lovely to see that something that looks a bit dated, without a lot of production value, can still be a valuable contribution to the medium because the content is treated with care.
As I mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of the horror genre. But I love my local cinema and there are always those gems out there. Recently, I reviewed a modern piece of horror from Mexico (La Region Salvaje) which screened at the Carolina. Also, I had the pleasure of viewing Mandy at the Carolina. It's a great theater with a fun, wide variety of programming. Also, I'd been advised that Bubba Ho-Tep would be screening, and that I should see it. Unfortunately, I don't have much to write about these films, but they deserve honorable mentions nonetheless.
Bubba Ho Tep (2002, dir. Don Coscarelli) a handful of great one-liners by Ozzie Davis, otherwise nothing to write home about.
Cemetery Man (1994, dir. Michele Soavi) Truly awful. How not to write a movie. Decent production design.
Creepshow (1982, dir. George A. Romero) I actually loved this film. Anthologies are rare and fun, and Hey Stephen King! Full disclosure: I left before they showed me a shit ton of cockroaches. I just- I just can't.
This movie hit every note for me. Government experimentation on members of the military - specifically of the hallucinogenic variety? Check. Tim Robbins looking gorgeous as fuck? Check. A philosopher protagonist?! Have I ever seen that before?! God, damnit! And then - and THEN - one of my favorite Radiohead songs from high school, I discovered, had sampled a piece of dialog for their song Rabbit in Your Headlights. I literally cried. The visual effects of the evil in the world? I was actually deeply frightened by this movie. I loved everything about this movie.
When I was nine years old, we were visiting my dad's mother in Wiggins, Mississippi. That evening, the adults sat on the couch in the fancy living room to watch The Green Mile. Even at that age, I was familiar with Tom Hanks' face and it seemed safe enough, though there was a sneaking scent of taboo in the air as the film was Rated R. No one pushed me to leave the room. Therefore, I got about halfway into it - long enough that, at 9 years old, I saw what it might look like for someone to be improperly electrocuted. I watched until the end of the scene. Then I left the room.
I had not seen this film since that time. It left me so traumatized that I've always referred to it as the most frightened I've ever been by a movie. Strangely, this viewing did not change my opinion. But it was amplified.
It might help to add at this point that my mother suffered a seizure disorder which made it impossible for normal levels of anti-seizure medication to have any effect. By the time she died at age 50, I saw my mom have dozens of full-on, grand mal seizures. Maybe hundreds. Viewing this film again, it was she in the electric chair, and I as John Coffey. And I bawled my motherfucking eyes out for ten minutes during and after that scene. And I felt the vulnerability and tenderness of my innocence seep away, and I cried and grieved for myself as I have not for many, many years after suffering this trauma.
Funny. My family was always so sensitive about sexuality portrayed on screen. They must have had no idea how this movie had affected me. It might even be why, deep down, I came not to trust them about much of anything. I certainly did not expect them to properly protect me from the evil in the world. Also. I fucking love the cast of this movie. It - I don't have anything else to say.
mother! (2017, dir. Aronofsky)
I avoided this film.
People said it was bad. I hated Black Swan and everyone else loved it. I should have known. This film is a great work of art. Allegories get my goat, and this one hit so close to home. Anxieties about gender roles was something that always plagued me. I thought Aronofsky, Lawrence, and Bardem did a beautiful job bringing it to life.
FROM DURHAM COUNTY LIBRARIES!
I clowns (1970, dir. Fellini)
This one was sad for me. Something about the death of carnival and vaudeville resonates with me - the coming of neoliberal technocracy like a replacement for so many shitty totalitarian ideas is no less than totalitarian. The fool knows more than anyone else can know. And that is the real tragedy. The clown in society is the only one who dares to see.
Shame (2011, dir. McQueen)
The Third Man (1949, dir. Reed)
Orson Welles is so fucking hot. Really. I love his wide-jowled face so much, and his big expressive eyes...! I just want to grab him and squish. But of course he would be coy and turn predator. Just the way I like them.
That doesn't say anything about this movie (it was fine, but its been a few weeks and I preferred actually being in Vienna) but as always I seek validation for the fucked up human being I've become.
A scallywag. Truly.
Lovely Diane and I filling our scully wulls with flicky pics