cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (misunderstood)
This isn't exactly a Friday Faves installment. I wanted to do something Halloweenie, but there's no way I can list my favorite horror movies, books, stories, or anything. I love too many things. I didn't want to randomly recommend "movies to watch on Halloween," either, since everyone's tastes are different and our moods affect what we want to watch when.

I can't remember the last time a horror movie actually scared me. Revolted, yes. Saddened, yes. Lately I've been thinking, Even if a movie were to scare me, it wouldn't be enough. I want art that makes me think. With that in mind, I've paired up horror movies into double features that excite my "compare 'n' contrast" tendencies. Maybe you'll find something in this list to satisfy your itch, whatever that may be.

1. Carnival of Souls (1962) and Donnie Darko (2001 but set in the '80s) -- Carnival of Souls is a black-and-white, low-budget, minimally-cast thriller starring the absolutely luminous Candace Hilligoss. Donnie Darko is a full-color, big (enough) budget spec film, with a star-studded ensemble cast and Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role. Both movies focus on a person out of synch with the rest of the world, but in Carnival the consequences are individual, insular; in Donnie Darko, everyone is affected. Both films are spookier than they are graphic, although there are some brief moments of gore in the R-rated Donnie.

2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, set in 1900) and Here Comes the Devil (2013) -- In both of these films, children on a holiday outing explore a mountain and something goes wrong. The PG-rated Picnic is less forthcoming about what exactly happened, obscuring with ethereal atmospherics apropos for late-Victorian repression, whereas the unrated Here Comes the Devil graphically depicts sex and violence. And yet, neither really explains why the tragedy unfolds. Perhaps the characters offend the genius loci? Maybe some places are just bad? Either way, both films are unsettling in their ambiguity.

3. The Descent (2005) and The Babadook (2014) -- On the surface, these are very different movies. The Descent follows women on a spelunking adventure who get lost in an unexplored series of tunnels. The tunnels are inhabited by humanoid cryptids and as the women fight to get back to the surface, they die in various brutal, bloody ways. The Babadook is about a grieving woman trying to survive daily life with her acutely sensitive child, who finds a book about a bogeyman-type monster that he thereafter insists is threatening their tiny, broken family. The Descent is a hard-R, with monsters and gore, while The Babadook works up to its R rating with psychological, real-world horror. But both movies are woman-centered explorations of grief in a world where bad things happen to good people, and they keep on happening.

4. Somos Lo Que Hay (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) -- The connection between these two flicks is clear: The latter is an American remake of the former, which is Mexican. And I'm going to have to spoil it for you, because I don't think it's fair to send you into a movie and not warn you that it depicts  cannibalism. What's interesting about this pair is how very different the movies are, despite the shared premise. Somos takes place in a city; We Are has a rural setting. The family is complicated in Somos; in We Are, it seems a pretty straight-forward, misogynist patriarchy. I think Somos is about a lot of things (economics, power dynamics, ritual and modernity, homosexuality, nature versus nurture, etc) but We Are opts for a narrower, easier to understand focus. For extra "food for thought," maybe watch Jug Face (2013), about a young woman who tries to escape her rural community when she falls afoul of its peculiar customs.

5. Pontypool (2008) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012) -- I love both these stories because they are obsessed with sound in a highly-visual medium. Former radio shock jock Grant Mazzy hates his new assignment in Pontypool, a small rural Canadian community. A mild-mannered sound engineer, Gilderoy hates his new job creating the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex, which is not a movie about horses, as he imagined, but a gruesome giallo flick. In Pontypool, a bizarre virus infects the town and Mazzy and the other employees of the local radio station must piece together the truth from conflicting reports, incoherent witnesses, and mysterious military injunctions. In Berberian Sound Studio, Gilderoy is an innocent adrift, desperately trying to hold together his reality even as it merges with the grisly fantasy he's forced to help create. Both films interrogate the gaps between sounds and meaning, facsimiles and reality, consensus/objectivity and dissent/subjectivity.

So there you have it: some brain candy to accompany your Halloween candy. I wish you a pleasant mix of tricks and treats. Happy Halloween!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (abby)
I don't know how scary a movie Oculus is, but it's definitely a horror movie. The premise is pretty basic: two adult siblings try to determine how/why their parents died and whether it had anything to do with a creepy mirror. As soon as you see the failsafe device one sibling has rigged, you pretty much know what's going to happen, and that predictability is why the movie isn't scary.

But it is a horror movie, insofar as the flashbacks portray two children helpless to stop the complete meltdown of their family unit. It's the middle of summer, they just moved into a new house in a new neighborhood, and the preteens are very much captives, at the mercy of adults who have gone totally batshit. Suffice to say, I can identify with kids who know their family has gone completely off the rails, and their bewilderment that no one on the outside even notices. In that sense, the movie reminded me of Stephen King's IT (specifically the girl and her abusive father) and The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum.

FWIW, mental illness is important to the story, and I thought the treatment of it was respectful. I recognized the defense mechanisms each sibling adopted, and I felt for the characters when they realized how flimsy those defenses were against a supernaturally stacked deck.

Also, while this movie is not a found-footage film in the strictest sense of the term, I thought it was interesting to note how easily it could have been. And how inescapable that storytelling method has become.

I really liked From Dusk Till Dawn when it first came out as a movie. Now director Robert Rodriguez has turned it into a tv show. (Scream, Fargo, Hannibal, Teen Wolf, 12 Monkeys…I guess that's the thing to do these days? Turn movies into tv shows?)

The pilot and second episodes follow the original movie opening pretty closely, visually and script-wise. To my great relief, however, Rodriguez (or the network) seems to have ashcanned the "edgy" excesses of the original Tarantino script. I actually whooped when I realized one of the most cringeworthy bits of dialogue got cut. Rodriguez is also retconning in some backstory for our would-be hero, Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez, a character original to the series, and for the speculative elements, which I won't spoil.

DJ Cotrona, as Seth Gecko, seems to have taken George Clooney's performance for gospel, but Zane Holtz is more nuanced in his portrayal of Richie Gecko than Quentin Tarantino was—which probably goes without saying? Tarantino is not subtle, ever.

Mental illness is a theme in both versions of From Dusk Till Dawn. But whereas Richie's delusions were rendered with hyper-realism in the movie version, on the television show his psychosis is "marked" for the viewer. The result is that the viewer doesn't experience the delusions with Richie so much as watches and thinks, "Wow, reptilian monster ladies. Really?" So, kind of judgmental. I would've preferred not to have that distance imposed between viewers and Richie. On the other (heavy)hand, the show telegraphs quickly and often that Richie may be attuned to powers his no-nonsense brother simply doesn't understand. In addition to being mentally ill. And strangely obsessed with horchata.

I was reading both Cotrona and Holtz as Latino, but they're not. I might keep pretending they are, just because it's such a pleasure to imagine a majority Latin@ cast. Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez is definitely Latino, as is the actor portraying him, Jessie Garcia. Sadly, Freddie is probably the least engaging character of the show, his character arc one we've seen a thousand times. Close second for most milquetoast character is Jacob Fuller, retired pastor and grieving husband. In the movie he was played by Harvey Keitel, which gave him some instant gravitas, but Robert Patrick seems to be struggling to make something of Jacob.

A few female characters are Latina, but they are minor characters so far, with little screen time. The only female leading role in the first two episodes is Kate Fuller, a white teenage girl trapped on a family trip with her father, Jacob, and her passive brother (who, we are told, was adopted from China).

It's too early to call, but I fear my breaking point with this show will be in its portrayal of women. Which, given its source material (much of the original takes place in a strip club called the Titty Twister), wouldn't be surprising. But I will hope that, like the ableist insults and racist vulgarity, the misogyny will be toned down, if not dismissed altogether.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (thinking bros)
In the hopes of filling in some of Tweetie's pop culture gaps, we've been rewatching old movies.

One was Ghostbusters, which we'd tried to share with her when she was much too young. For some scenes, she was maybe still too young. I always forget the ghostly succubus going down on one of the ghostbusters! In my defense, I may forget because it's not of a piece with the rest of the film. (Kind of like that one scene in Evil Dead.) I think Tweetie liked the movie in general. There were spooky parts but she got through them by speculating with her papa about how the special effects people had made things happen. And she jeered at the quality of the CGI.

We also watched The Addams Family (1991), so Tweetie would understand papa's joke about Girl Scout cookies being made with real Girl Scouts. She liked this movie better, not least because of Wednesday, so we'll probably watch the sequel soon.

A movie J and I watched without Tweetie was World War Z. I'd read the book and couldn't imagine how it'd be translated from an epistolary story with multiple, international, POVs to a big budget CGI extravaganza. Basically, they didn't. They opted to focus on one continent-hopping ex-UN guy, which worked surprisingly well. Brad Pitt has a good "listening" face, no doubt related to his real-world activism. During one scene, when he listens to an Israeli official explain why Israel hadn't been overrun by zombies, I forgot for a split second that I wasn't watching a documentary.

Despite the theme, opening credits, and plenty of suspenseful moments, I didn't consider WWZ a horror movie. The thing I liked best about it was that our hero's "super powers" were his powers of observation, his ability to observe even under horrific circumstances. There were plenty of shots of Pitt looking, listening, reasoning. Frankly, it kind of reminded me of how the camera lingered over Steve McQueen's thoughtful face in Bullitt, another action-y movie you wouldn't expect to find respect for mental prowess. And rather than being punished for seeing too much or too deeply, as would happen in most horror movies, Pitt's character eventually triumphs. In that regard, it's more of a mystery thriller: will our hero put together enough clues quickly enough to save his family and the world?!

My reluctance to categorize WWZ as a horror movie forced me to reexamine my criteria. It wasn't just that I didn't find WWZ frightening. I expect horror movies to promote the idea of forbidden knowledge--that there are some things humans aren't meant to see or know or understand. You look too close, you die. You read the book, you die. You recite the words, and your soul can only be saved through the act of bodily dismemberment. (back to Evil Dead, again) To be fair, in WWZ, the hero never actually determines where the zombie "virus" originated, so that may count as forbidden knowledge. But the hero gets off pretty easy, considering horror movie traditions.

The only exception to this heretofore unexamined criteria of mine that I've been able to think of is Suspiria, which is quite definitely horror, but also has a mystery component to it. The heroine accidentally sees things that turn out to be clues, and as the movie progresses, she does some actual investigation that permits her to fight the evil. Perhaps what makes the difference in my mind is that the camera's gaze in WWZ is clinical, scientific, dispassionate, whereas Suspiria's is fetishistic, lurid, even gleeful. While WWZ is very invested in what happens inside human bodies, on a cellular level, Suspiria is more interested in what happens when the interior becomes exterior on a celluloid level.

I'm not done thinking about what makes a horror movie a horror movie, but if I waited to blog about it until I was done...well, I'd probably look like the Cryptkeeper or be blogging from the great beyond. :)

Your thoughts welcome in comments!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
I considered skipping the ofrenda for this year's Día de los Muertos. As busy as I've been, I just wasn't feeling it, the connection to Grampa, the memories, the desire to collect items that remind me of him. But I've decided to try. Maybe it's important to put myself in a position to remember. And because it's an effort this year, I've decided against using all the same items that I've used in years past, lest the ofrenda become a mindless ritual.

Ofrenda 1

Making a comeback are the lotería cards, the photo of Grampa that I love, and the glass calavera candle holder. New items include: a bottle of dry roasted peanuts, which was a favorite snack of Grampa's and the traditional birthday, Father's Day, every holiday gift from us kids to Grampa; a Hostess fruit pie, because he bought three for us kids every week on his grocery trip, long after we cared for the sugary treats; a glass bingo-printed tray, because Grampa played bingo so much that his car was littered with old, marked cards and dried-out or used-up bingo markers, and sometimes he won; and a couple of battery-op'd tea-light candles so I can have candles without worrying about the cats getting curious and burning the house down.

Some things I am still thinking about/looking for: a small plastic donkey; Marlboro cigarettes; a toy barber's pole; a piece of denim; Barbicide; cowboy boot salt & pepper shakers. Tweetie has also offered to make a collage, which Grampa and I would love.

Another thing I've been doing to feel festive is watching horror movies: The Lost Boys; Nightmare before Christmas; House; Scream; Scream 2; Scream 3. I'd never watched Scream 3 before last night, and was pleasantly surprised. It's a lot better than the second installment, though my favorite remains the original.

As a trilogy, Scream is an incredibly depressing story. Our Final Girl Sidney is continually victimized by the consequences of her mother's past. Her agency seems to be limited to the choice of whether to trust others or build her walls, with the correlative choice of whether to confront the horror or run from it. Which is so fundamental it's easy to depreciate. But looking again, we actually get a Final Trio, three survivors who make it from beginning to end of the trilogy, and they're a cobbled together family that replaces the illusory family Sidney started with. So that development is heartening. Also, the trilogy says some interesting things about race and feminism and male entitlement. And I love how Craven uses windows and doors throughout the movies, and Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" in each soundtrack.

But the first film is still my favorite because it has Billy and Stu, and they were treated as free agents, acting out their own murderous impulses rather than being manipulated by adults. And they were pretty and stood really close to each other. ;D

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
Happy news to share this Monday morning! My long poem "Una Canción de Keys" has been accepted for publication in Strange Horizons. This is the poem I read at the Spindles and Spitfire reading at WisCon in May.

Other pleasing events from this weekend: the apple chutney I made on Friday night; the chocolate cake JJ and Tweetie made, also on Friday night; the spaghetti squash we had for dinner last night; (are you detecting a pattern?); buying two pumpkins for decoration, one a Cinderella variety, the other painted light purple and dusted with white glitter; watching Star Trek Into Darkness with JJ on Saturday night; watching Room 237 while JJ snickered on Sunday night.

Room 237 is a documentary about people's theories regarding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, everything from the semi-plausible notions that the movie is "really" all about the Holocaust or the genocide of Native American tribes to the bizarre "explanation" that Kubrick was confessing his role in the supposedly staged footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I love The Shining, and it's about time to watch it again, but I love it for the cinematography and how Kubrick subverted the concept of the traditional horror movie. So my favorite part of the documentary was not the conspiracy theories, but the demonstration of what happens when one watches the movie forwards and backwards at the same time, that is, running the movie beginning-to-end while superimposing on it the movie end-to-beginning. For me, what becomes clear from that experiment is how precisely Kubrick selected his camera angles, and how consistently. The method is a very literal-minded version of how many (most?) critics analyze works: fold the works over on themselves to see where the correspondences lie.

Another point of obsession for many of the people interviewed in Room 237 is, not surprisingly, numbers. How the number 42 shows up x number of times, or how 237 corresponds to the distance to the moon, etc. I considered how I run certain of my stories and poems through to create word clouds and realized it's a preemptive version of the same thing: I'm looking for unintended repetitions and whether or not the themes (or proto-themes) are represented in the words that frequently appear, ensuring that my form follows my function, if you will. A quantitative approach to a qualitative process.

A much less pleasant aspect to my weekend was the miserable headache that's persisted for about a week now. It's a bit better today--I haven't had to take any medicine yet--but if it's still a problem tomorrow, I'll have to head to the doctor. I've had migraine symptoms, but I suppose it could be a sinus infection also or instead.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (gun)
TW: discussion of film portrayal of real-life abuse, violence

Last week I tried to watch Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders), which is a movie based on the story of a real-life serial killer in Australia. Normally, I don't watch serial killer movies if they're based on real people. They strike me as cheap and sensational and celebrating that which they claim to deplore. But I am a horror movie fan, and I don't mind "dark" material, so even if it's not my bag, I hear and read about a lot of true-crime stuff. The lines get hazy. What tipped the scale for me with this particular movie was the suggestion that it examined how the killer got people to help him commit his heinous crimes.

I don't think I was even 15 minutes into the film when I had my first "crap, am I going to make it through?" moment. The mother leaves three of her sons (ages 7-14?) in a neighbor's care, and after the neighbor serves them dinner, he takes photos of the boys. We don't really see anything, but we know exactly what kind of photos he's taking and why. The look on the oldest boy's face is heartbreaking. So that was my first moment of dread.

The mother quickly realizes what's happened and attacks the neighbor, then reports him to the authorities, but justice is slow. The neighborhood vigilantes are faster, and soon drive the pedophile out of town. The leader of the vigilante group strikes up a romance with the boys' mother and soon they are one big happy family. Or not.

I watched until the first graphic torture scene, when it became clear the vigilantes were not acting out of a misplaced sense of justice but to get their jollies from destroying others. And by then, I had, in fact, understood how the main murderer got others to go along with his plots: he was a bully. He'd sense weakness and zero in on it. He manipulated, harangued, harassed, betrayed, blackmailed, and terrorized others. He didn't even seem all that smart (and props to the director for that).

Likewise, I realized that the violence would drag on and on until some trivial detail tripped the killers up. Just as there was no big revelation as to what triggered the people who cooperated, there wouldn't be a dramatic moment in which someone turned on the vigilantes and reported the murders.

If there's any mystery, it's why some violated people become violent themselves and others don't. And I suspect, as [ profile] asakiyume suggests in a different context, every individual's tipping point is exactly that: individual. Unique. Case studies are only useful predictors to the extent they can replicate a phenomenon. Watching Snowtown, I decided I couldn't subject myself to any more of the reenactment, since it wasn't going to teach me anything I don't already know. People can be horrible. People can be irreparably broken. People can suffer and die for no good reason. That's reality, not my idea of entertainment, no matter how well crafted the movie might be.

Give me haunted houses or kaiju any day of the week.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (lightbulb)
at The Moment of Change reading

Vanessa Vega bounded up to me after the reading, and we talked about our mutual love of the horror genre and growing up with cheesy genre movies. My grandpa and I watched horror movies together, and I told Vanessa, without even thinking, that he probably would've preferred to watch movies in Spanish, but it's always more fun to watch horror movies with a friend, and so he watched English language movies with me.

And damn if that wasn't the first time it occurred to me! At some point, Grampa had slyly, obliquely "invited" me to share this love of horror with him. No one else in the family partook of our gruesome obsession. We didn't choose the movies together; I rented most of them, but others were on tv. We didn't speak during the movies. We didn't discuss them afterwards. We sat in silence, often on opposite sides of the room (although one of us usually disappeared into the kitchen during the sex scenes--talk about awkward!). But it was something we had in common--the only thing I was aware of at the time. And it was a gift he gave to me.

Goddamn, I miss him. 

As Sofia said when I related this epiphany to her, this is the kind of realization that--were it the only one I had over that long weekend--would've made the entire trip worthwhile. So I thank [ profile] rose_lemberg for organizing the reading and [ profile] shadesong and [ profile] alankria for encouraging me to read "The Haunted Girl" and Vanessa for triggering my a-ha! moment.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)
Hi! I feel crummy, and have for about a week now! But I don't want to talk about that because it is BORING. So instead I offer five happy-making things, with LINKS!

1. Pontypool. I'd been wanting to see this movie for a long time, and it finally appeared on my Netflix streaming queue. Here's the trailer. (Incidentally, the DJ's tirade against the winter weather is about twice as long as what you hear in the clip. I could identify.) Pontypool is an ambitious little horror movie uniquely suited to writerly audiences. It takes place almost entirely in a small-town radio station, over the course of one day. The three main characters (two of them women) gradually piece together the nature of a viral outbreak turning their town into babbling psychos. There's little gore (though what there is, is effectively distressing) and it comes maybe three-quarters of the way in. Almost all the suspense depends on storytelling: the DJ tells stories, people who call into the station give reports, messages come in via internet and disembodied military announcements. I found the premise imaginative and quite disconcerting. 

2. "Girls on Film: The Battle between Feminism and Horror". This essay does a super job of conveying both feminist successes and remaining challenges for portrayals of women in horror films. And note that the title itself is not careless. The central females in these movies are usually *girls*, not women. And that in itself is something to think about...

3. Gross bikes! You know those people whose reaction to smelling something truly heinous is to try to make YOU smell it? I'll admit, I'm being kind of like that here. I was looking up customized motorcycle gas tanks and I found, in addition to copious breasts--including some pneumatic examples on the Mona Lisa--this really disgusting bike that squicked me out, maybe even more so after I'd seen the smutty ones that give a whole new meaning to "crotch rocket." Because on this one, the gas tank looks like a human heart. The bike cost $120,000.

4. shared a youtube video by Caitlin, a fun, friendly mortician willing to answer random questions about death and funerary practices. In the posted vid, Caitlin explains rigor mortis and how long it lasts, as well as what does and does not happen during the cremation process. And she shows off her pet python.

5. I've been rewatching "Twin Peaks" (that's the happy-making thing) and I'm intrigued by its portrayals of characters with mental and physical handicaps (not happy but thoughtful-making). For example, Donna's mother uses a motorized wheelchair. A reason has not been given (I'm on ep 2.5 or 6), and it's not really relevant. There's a handsome young man who's a shut-in due to agoraphobia. The Log Lady, although she can be taken for laughs, is no sillier than any other character. As much credence is given to her log's eyewitness reports as to Agent Cooper's dream visions. There's a one-armed man who remains suspicious, and Nadine's bipolar behavior is over-the-top, but a lot of the characters are over-the-top. It's a soap that pokes fun at soaps. Still, much to think about...


Oct. 17th, 2011 10:25 am
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (bruised)
In the mood for a new horror movie, I checked out what was available on Netflix streaming (not a lot), and settled on Heartless, directed by Philip Ridley (who also did The Reflecting Skin) and starring Jim Sturgess. The movie was far better than the synopsis led me to believe, though it was less of a straight-up horror movie, too. More of an "Emo Thriller" I guess. And hey, that's no sillier than some of the other genre descrips Netflix provides.

The main character, Jamie, is a young man with a naevus flammeus (port-wine stain) on his face and upper body. In typical movie fashion, the birthmark is nowhere near as hideous as is implied, but it makes Jamie a bullied outsider who despairs of ever meeting someone who will love him. He's attempted suicide sometime in the past, and his family remains nervous that Jamie's going to lose it at any moment. This constant worried scrutiny is what sold me on the movie. It's so true. At the supermarket, you absentmindedly buy four rolls of Saran Wrap instead of what you went for, and your family gently, maddeningly asks, "Is everything okay? Is it...the thing...again?" Perhaps the only person who would understand, Jamie's sweetheart of a father, is dead.

Jamie slinks through the apocalyptic streets of London, hiding behind a "real" (not digital) camera. A hoodie-wearing, demon-masked gang is terrorizing the city, randomly setting people on fire with Molotov cocktails. Jamie discovers they're not wearing masks, they're actually demons. And then it gets weirder. And gruesome. Somebody's heart gets cut out while he's still alive, someone else's decapitated head gets chewed on, Jamie gets set on fire and later pulls off his charred skin like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. I underscore these details because otherwise, I'd forget them, the way I tend to forget the horror elements of Donnie Darko.

The movie wears its heart on its sleeve. Jamie seems on the verge of tears most of the time, his tentative smile more of a grimace. (Again, details that ring true to me, well-remembered from my own suicidal phases.) The soundtrack is plainly, earnestly emo, with lyrics written by the director and many songs sung by Jim Sturgess. In fact, I bought the soundtrack largely on the basis of the lyrics to the theme song: "When I call your name out, it turns to shrapnel in my mouth / And the last time I looked up, the north star was south." The song is available on youtube:

Not exactly the movie I was looking for, but better.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
This week I watched two horror movies that long eluded me, Paranormal Activity and The Descent.

Actually, I eluded Paranormal Activity for a long time. It looked too much like the Blair Witch Project, which I totally did not get. (And the confusion seems to have run in my family. At a wake, a pair of our seldom-seen but much-loved cousins made me weep and pee-my-pants with laughter as they recounted their own bafflement at the ending of Blair Witch.) To my mind, Paranormal Activity makes a lot more sense than Blair Witch.

Paranormal Activity is the story of Katie, an English grad student who likes beading and knitting but is utterly unequipped to decorate her new tract home in San Diego. Complicating Katie's life is an extremely possessive, overbearing, entitled, Type-A entity who has stalked her for years. Supposedly "Micah" is a day trader, but we never see this guy do anything but record Katie's every waking moment, attempt to get nude photos of her, insert himself into all her relationships, ignore all her requests/pleas/demands, play blame games, and belittle her beliefs. The movie does have a happy ending, at least. Katie eventually embraces her girl power--although under the guise of being demonically possessed--and beats the stalker to death. She then flees the suffocating suburbs, presumably to work as a small-town preschool teacher.


In truth, PA is one of those horror movies that gives the viewer almost nothing to work with, and still manages to scare audiences silly. As I told J, I was afraid to yawn or blink too long, because I might miss a split-second scare or a ghostly visage in the blurry background. The signal-to-noise ratio for this movie is so measly, missing anything would've made the experience a total loss. 

I don't know why I never watched The Descent. I think it came out when I was still in the throes of postpartum weirdness, so I thought it was just another slasher movie, only using a spelunking gimmick to get maximum sweat and cling to the girls' wardrobe before their inevitable demises. Then I got the idea that it was really gory, and I just wasn't looking for that. But [ profile] intertribal said she appreciated it, so when I saw it at the pawn shop, I snagged it. (This one is the original cut, with the "depressing" ending supposedly unfit for American audiences. I never get that.)

The Descent is an odd little gem, not unlike Dog Soldiers, the werewolfy Scottish film also directed by Neil Marshall. For one thing, The Descent features an all-female cast, almost unheard of in the genre, and those females are unequivocally kick-ass. To the film's credit, I never felt like the camera was perving on the actresses. Even when they wore body-hugging clothing and did stretches and stuff. I felt more awed by their physical prowess than anything.

I hesitate to say the movie passes the Bechdel test, because although the women do discuss things other than the *one* man in the movie, the events are precipitated by Juno's affair with Sarah's husband. So the movie kind of misses the "spirit" of the Bechdel test (especially if one watches the depressing ending). Moreover, the film implies that Juno is on par with the uber-Gollum monsters the women encounter while caving (and, according to the gestalt dream theory of horror, Juno is the functional equivalent of a child killer). Personally, I never found Juno--or any of the human characters--unsympathetic, and I resented being manipulated that way. 

The movie squeezes the inherent dangers and thrills of spelunking for all they're worth. It's very suspenseful before the monsters even show up. Frankly, the monsters never made evolutionary sense to me, but as I said to J, the frequency with which we insisted "but wait, that could never happen" might've indicated just how freaked out we were: the lady doth protest too much? I suppose the movie IS gory, but I'm not the best judge of that. When one character sinks into a pool of blood and bits, I was more squicked by the Freudian implications (rebirth, now with Phallus!) than the gore.

I'm interested to see what's on the commentary track, so I'll probably watch The Descent again soon.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (bruised)

Twice in the past week I've watched movies I really wanted to like, movies that featured elements dear to my heart, but that, as wholes, left me unsatisfied.

The first one, the one I actually sat all the way through, was Bajo la Sal (Under the Salt, 2008), a Mexican serial-killer mystery. This one starts off really well. During salt harvest, workers uncover a woman's dead body. She turns out to be one of several young women who've gone missing from the small town over the last five years or so.

dvd cover of bajo la sal with woman's hand sticking out of salt flat

The bright, sprawling, bleached landscape of the salt flats contrasts powerfully with the shadow looming in the characters' minds: the memory of the mass femicides committed around the maquiladoras of Juarez, Mexico. The male workers gather at a respectful distance around the body, their heads bowed. They know they are at ground zero of a tragedy. Several times, men ask the detective from the capitol if these murders might not be like what happened in Juarez. They are and they aren't. I admire how the movie invokes the femicide epidemic without sensationalizing it or exploiting it. Rather, the Juarez murders are depicted as a blight in Mexican memory; a mental bruise that isn't healing—and it shouldn't.

I also like the young main character, Victor. The son of the town mortician, Victor is not exactly coping with his mother's recent (unrelated to the serial killings) death, and his father less so. Victor is a Mexican emo/goth type, which I love because the personality is treated respectfully, without the ironic sneer that most movies aim at teen goths, especially Hispanic ones. Victor is a horror movie afficionado, but what he seems to respond to is old-school Dracula stuff, not grisly slashers. Nevertheless, Victor is clearly working something out as he makes his own homemade horror movie, a stop-motion animated slasher film called “Revenge of the Valley of the Dolls.” The lurid stop-motion work is painstakingly created with Barbie and Ken dolls, and interesting in itself, as well as for the characterization and the contrast it offers in color and pace to the rest of the film, which glides along as slowly and inexorably as an obsidian glacier.

Sadly, the film doesn't amount to much. There's no mystery as to who the killer is—and any mystery is stomped out when key dialog is repeated in multiple voiceovers. If the film is intended as a character study or coming-of-age story, then the key revelations or discoveries remain below the surface, as it were (pun!). If this were a book, I'd say the words just aren't on the page. Something deeper than the plot climax occurred, but I don't know what.

I tried to watch La Mission (2009) last night, but I got only halfway through this story of a Hispanic father who discovers his son is gay and reacts badly (to say the least). The father is played by Benjamin Bratt, who I've always liked (though in recent years he's been too thin for my tastes). The film has macho melodrama written all over it and that, plus the loving depiction of car culture, was what drew me in. But I just didn't feel it.

The movie-of-the-week style earnestness turned me off, and there was no depth to the characters. I mean, in my experience, part of what sends Hispanic fathers into homophobic rage at their gay sons is that deep down, the dads knew all along and preferred to ignore it. This papa seems genuinely stunned.

I liked that the film drew parallels between the homosocial low-rider subculture and the homosexual clubbing scene; I liked the few risks the movie took during the father-son confrontation: the son suggests the father must have some experience with gay sex after having been in prison; the father bristles at the idea of his son bottoming for a white guy. Wow. O_O

But aside from those strokes outside the lines, I didn't care about the characters or feel any urgency about their situation. These afterschool specials all have happy endings, right?

ETA: Today, Bradley James Nowell would've been 43. RIP, baby.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (love)

This sweet-looking man:

was born on February 10, 1906, and became the only actor to portray all four of Universal Pictures major monsters: the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, a vampire, and perhaps most memorably, The Wolf Man:

black and white publicity still from The Wolf Man

Despite his amiable face, the 6' 2" Lon Chaney, Jr was often cast as bruiser types, such as Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men. His height also provided an advantage during his rare physical altercations with colleagues, such as when he nearly strangled an actor on camera or broke a vase over a director's head. For the most part, however, Chaney seems to have been a likable, easy person to work with. Even after his death, he contributed to society, by donating his body to medical research.

All info gleaned from wikipedia; all love courtesy of me.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (bruised)

Did nobody "get" Jennifer's Body?

cafenowhere: abby from TV show NCIS, eyes closed, listening to music (abby dreaming)

First, a couple of links:

[ profile] pgdudda righteously castigates NetFlix for its failure to provide captioning for its internet movie-viewing. NetFlix's decision not only inconveniences families like mine--in which parents try to watch scream-filled flicks, but quietly, after the kids have gone to bed--but also clearly violates the ADA.

And perhaps because we've entered the holiday season, when many of us contemplate stabbing our loved ones with Christmas trees or strangling them with twinkle lights, [ profile] toddalcott has posted his analysis of Kubrick's The Shining, asking the all-important questions, Who is the protagonist? and What does the protagonist want?

Now, a couple of lists:

I am thankful for my family, books, music, my cats, coffee, chocolate, art, the moon, movies, Tweetie's skool, the seasons, my friends, Livejournal, Woodpecker Cider, Jack Daniels, my bed, museums, electricity, candle light, my glasses, trees, tofu, and sertraline...

Tweetie is thankful for her best friends, books, her house, her mom and dad, toys, movies, her skool, food, drinks, day and night, several of her stuffed animals, cats, art class, flowers, dogs, and trees...

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (so tired)
Hellraiser is the first horror movie I remember wanting, desperately, to watch. I was 12 or 13, so I could only watch it on video. The time between theater release and video availability was excruciating, and only intensified by my friends' subscriptions to Fangoria magazine, which offered tantalizing behind-the-scenes photos. (My then-boyfriend would wrap presents for me in pages from Fangoria magazine. Ah, young love!)

You cannot imagine my glee when I got my hot little hands on that VHS tape. I loved that movie. It was horrible and beautiful and gruesome and mindblowing.  I think I watched it by myself the first time, because I sort of remember knowing when to wander off (during the sex scenes) while watching it with my grandpa.

Hellraiser II was even better, more brutal and grander in scope. The two movies sort of fused in my mind. So much so, I had trouble locating the images for this picspam at first because I couldn't remember which scenes happened in which movies.

Here is Julia. Clearly, the 80s were evil.

Julia is married to Larry, but had an affair with his brother, Frank.

But then Frank "solved" the Lament Configuration puzzle and got dragged to Hell.

Julia helps Frank return to our world by supplying him with plenty of fresh blood. Watching this woman hammer a man to death was a formative experience.

This is Kirsty Cotton, Larry's daughter. She hates Julia, though she doesn't know why. She finds out soon enough.

I loved how much of Kirsty's emoting conveyed "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Julia and Kirsty are the human forces to be reckoned with in this movie. Everything happens because of them. Frank Cotton may have solved the puzzle box and summoned the Cenobites,

but he wouldn't be incarnated (in his brother Larry's skin!) if it weren't for Julia. And it's Kirsty who lures the Cenobites to Frank for the infamous Jesus Wept scene, which is #19 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie moments.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Yummy!)
Just because I love it.

I've posted this shot of Drew Barrymore before. Still love how it embodies Hitchcock's sick aesthetic: "Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints." Also, it serves as an excellent if subtle clue that, like Janet Leigh in Psycho, Barrymore is, despite the blockbuster rep, just a bait-n-switch.

So awful, so funny, so good. I especially like that this Drew looks so much like baby Drew in ET. (image via

Rose McGowan, another brunette that went blonde for this movie, the better to show up the blood and to subliminally indicate she's not the Final Girl, she's a distraction, a fake. I adored her character, Tatum; she's the one I would've saved. (image via Glenn Dunks's scene-by-scene analysis of Scream:

The origin of my icon! Here, Billy Loomis explains that the "blood" is colored corn syrup, like they used in Carrie. (image via

God, I love Skeet Ulrich, but I forget how beautiful Matthew Lillard can be, too. And that elastic face of his. Look at the range of expressions he plows through while Ulrich is working up to his serial killer smile. (image from

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (thinking bros)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my mom about movies. Her complaint:

"They said it was action, but really it was just two guys beating the crap out of each other. If I wanted that kind of action, I'd spend more time with the family."

Oh, Mom. ILU.

The other night J and I watched Lake Mungo, an Australian pseudo-documentary about a family supposedly haunted after the teen daughter's drowning.

Was it scary? NO. Was it gory? NO. There were some shots of a faux water-bloated corpse, but that was it. Did it have hotties? NO. And except for a two-second clip of a grainy, night-vision-looking "homemade" sex tape, it had no nudity either--and even that was more likely to induce a migraine than arousal. (Apologies in advance for all the ironic quoties; kind of par for the course when discussing pseudo-docs.)

What made it interesting to me was how by-the-numbers it was for a mumblecore pseudo-doc haunting movie. I'd thought that was a novel-enough genre that it'd kind of have to be original. Maybe I'm missing something because of cultural differences, but it seems pretty straightforward:

*the recursive irony of watching a cheaply made movie purporting to be reality (becz reality is cheap--and yet the hardest thing to fake)

*the subversion of the notion that video--what we see--can provide objective proof of reality

*the unveiling via secret diary of a young girl's "true" (which is to say, sexual; nay, kinky) nature, and its effect on her father, primarily

*the "twist" that once we've been shown how easy it is to fake video evidence, that same evidence "reveals" the very thing the characters were trying to fake

And then there were all the standard ghost story tropes, too: father in denial, mother grasping at spiritual straws, liminal little boy, the sketchy clairvoyant...

I did like the homage to Twin Peaks, but the Amanda Palmer storyline has worn thin for me, so it was a strictly visual appreciation on that point.

I watched Lake Mungo to the end because I had the time and it wasn't terrible, which isn't much of a recommendation. (We watched Plague Town recently, too--now that was terrible.) But if your interests overlap with mine, LM might be a movie to watch while doing something else.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Yummy!)

Movies, always with the movies—but first, a funny story.

JJ bought a dartboard and installed it in the den this morning. He and Tweetie played with it, then later he pestered me to try.

I looked up at the board. "It's too high," I said.

"That's regulation height."

"Really?" I said, and I revised my mental image of the Winchester boys.

"It's okay, just try it. I didn't even hit the board the first couple of times."

We played twice. I won twice. J put away the darts.

Chagrined, he said, "This is going to be like thumb wars, isn't it?"


Now, the movies! )

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (so tired)
...But Mother Might Have Something to Say

After the movie--
chainsaws and chesty cheerleaders--
my brother swats me off to bed
jeering "Sweet Dreams!"
And they are
until I wake and realize
his blood, hot on my hands,
is simply night sweats
and his death moans
still in my ears
mean he's rubbing one out
in the next room.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (thinking bros)

The other night JJ and I watched Steamboy (2004, Japan, director's cut), an animated movie that I mostly enjoyed. I like when foes lay waste to one another and to a major city while arguing at the top of their lungs, Iliad-style, about the function of science in human society and the ethical obligations of scientists. I also liked the sole female main character (Scarlett), but her arc was so flat that she mostly functioned as comic relief. I would totally watch a sequel, intrigued by the end credits that show snapshots of Steamboy's future adventures (and Scarlett's possible growth as a kick-ass female protag).

It's kind of a no-brainer that werewolf lore lends itself to feminist fables, but most such movies I've seen (like Ginger Snaps, which I liked, too) have treaded the obvious path from puberty to menstruation to sexual empowerment. Wild Country (2005, UK/Scotland) skips that cliché and links lycanthropy and motherhood. The first 10 minutes are so well done and the teenage leads so surprisingly competent that I watched the remaining hour with little complaint. I see other reviewers have dissed the teens for being "blank slates" but, frankly, I was just relieved they weren't the uber-annoying stereotypes that American teen flicks churn out. The effects are atrocious--silly stuffed monster heads (held by the camera guy?) that should've stayed in the dark--and the running sequences are tedious, and the ending is abrupt and predictable, but there's worse ways to spend an hour. Here's the image from the opening credits that inspired my spanish moss poem the other day.

I'd avoided Antibodies (2005, Germany) because, frankly, the cover on Netflix wigged me out. I worried the movie would be too gruesome. It wasn't. Despite one main character being a serial killer and pedophile, despite the tortured animals. What it was—and this surprised me--was Christian propaganda. The sheriff of a rural town has been investigating the murder of a young girl for over a year, earning himself a fair amount of enmity and abuse from the locals. When city cops catch a serial killer, the rural sheriff goes to the big bad city to talk to the killer, Silence of the Lambs style, to find out if he killed the girl. The main actors are very good [fwiw, Wotan Wilke Mohring is also quite easy on the eyes; he was also in Valkyrie (which I haven't seen, because if it's Tom Cruise versus Hitler, I don't have anyone to root for) and Pandorum], the dialogue is pretty interesting, the mystery is sufficient, and then it all goes down the crapper. All the philosophizing about good and evil is for naught; the movie reinforces the usual dichotomies and relies upon the sappiest, most ridiculous ending I've ever seen. I'll give you a hint: God. And Bambi. Okay, that's two.

It's a good thing Mohring is cute. Here he is in Valkyrie.

What movies have you seen lately? Anything especially good or bad?


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