Friday, October 26, 2018

The Halloween List: The Haunting (1963) and Kwaidan (1964)

Previously: My Friend Dahmer and Suicide Club

The Haunting (1963)

This has to be up there with the best of black-and-white supernatural films, neck-and-neck with the classic Frankenstein. It’s based one of the all-time great novellas, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, about researchers who study whether a notoriously haunted house has anything true to its legends. Jackson inspired Matheson, King, and an army of other Horror writers to write similar stories, yet hers holds up thanks to fierce psychology. The movie focuses on Eleanor, a psychically susceptible woman carrying misplaced guilt over the death of her mother, who was always demanded too much of her time and stifled her growth – and who died the one time Eleanor ignored her.

It’s a slow burn that is well worth the time you put in. Everyone has a strong personality that the house is going to bend. The mansion itself is gorgeous, and only feels more old-fashioned and unwelcome in 2018. It doesn’t need cobwebs and dungeons. It has excessive signs of wealth that nobody wants anymore, and they’re all freshly cleaned. And when we get our special effects, they are remarkable for their time. There’s an effect where a door pulses inward as though it’s a giant heart beating with the life of a ghostly building, that frankly is one of the coolest practical effects I’ve ever seen.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Mental Illness in Horror: My Friend Dahmer & Suicide Club

Previously: Blumhouse's Halloween.

I love Horror, but too much of it views mental illness as a bottomless well of origin stories for killers. It's disappointing that Horror still views "crazy" as a synonym "villain" when we live in a world where so many people with mental illness are abused, evicted, and killed.

Today I want to look at two very powerful films that have different angles on mental illness. The first actually asks us to sympathize with the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer.

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

This is almost the prologue to a Horror movie. Based on the comic of the same name, My Friend Dahmer is about the years of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life right before he became a serial killer. It’s seldom merely morbid, offering a profoundly human vision of a confused, neuroatypical young man who had a brief chance to change. It focuses on the group of prankster friends Dahmer fell in with, jocular but not cruel.

At the start of the movie, Dahmer collects road kill and other dead animals in his shack, where he dissects them and reduces them to bones. It looks like he’s on the path to becoming a serial killer already, although he hasn’t made the typical jump to harming animals yet. But his father discovers the shack and demolishes it. Dahmer is infuriated, but his father sits him down and says he sees himself in the boy. There’s deep irony in this heart-to-heart chat about the importance of making friends and not isolating yourself, because his father thinks he’s just on the road to being an unhappy middle-aged man like himself.

That irony is lost on Dahmer, who then tries to fit in with the goofballs he knows at school, creating an incredibly unlikely friendship that sublimates his darker impulses. He’s willing to embarrass himself publicly in ways the other boys aren’t. That makes him a legend to them, and gives him an outlet he needs as the rest of his life starts to fall apart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Halloween List: Blumhouse's Halloween (2018), the Best Since John Carpenter's Original

This is the best made of the Halloween sequels. Halloween 2 in 1981 attempted to tell what happened immediately after the original film, and Halloween H20 attempted a soft reboot to address the kind of trauma Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was still processing. Both were equally unsatisfying in trying to expand on the simplicity of the original.Blumhouse's Halloween surpasses them by naturally playing with the archetypes of the original. Laurie has grown into the new Dr. Loomis, a reclusive gun nut waiting for the night her attacker might return, and has left a failed family in her wake. That gives us a cast with their own suburban lives to be turned upside on another fateful Halloween night.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Halloween List: Prom Night

Previously: Upgrade and Short Night of Glass Dolls

I put off watching Prom Night for years because it was lumped in with those misogynistic punishment Slashers. How good could it really be if the prom scene in Carrie is more famous than this entire movie dedicated to proms? I imagined Jamie Lee Curtis would lead a cast of girls getting massacred for flirting. But that’s not what happens here.

The premise is standard issue: a masked killer stalks a high school on Prom Night. Even in 1980, this wasn’t breaking a lot of ground. The funny thing about Slasher films is they weren’t originally Conservative punishment fantasies. Prom Night is about a small group of friends who, when they were very young, accidentally killed a classmate and ran to hide from the consequences. Someone witnessed the death but never spoke about it. He’s only returned on the eponymous night of their prom for revenge. The killer is attempting to punish these teens for the thing they buried in their pasts.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Halloween List: Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) and Upgrade (2018)

Previously: Tragedy Girls, Evil Eye, and What Have You Done to Solange?

Today I offer you two movies, separated by nearly fifty years, with two very different approaches to paralysis. One is a suspenseful Giallo about being mistaken for a cadaver. The other is an action movie that would love to forget disability even exists.

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Gregory Moore isn’t dead, but the morticians don’t know that. His body is discovered in a garden one morning in Prague by a gardener who only cares about not getting blamed for a homicide. Moore is actually totally paralyzed, unable to speak or so much as blink or move an eye. He’s mistaken for an unusually warm dead body, and morticians study him trying to figure out what’s wrong with the cadaver. If they don’t figure it out, he could be buried alive, or accidentally killed on an autopsy table.

He struggles to think of how to alert someone for help, and tries to comb his memories for what caused all of this. Because of his condition, he can’t act on the immediate conflict. The movie punts, using his memories to flashback and tell the story of what happened before this morning. Moore had a girlfriend who abruptly disappeared, and with police refusing to help, he infiltrated the seedier parts of Prague’s society for answers. It brought him into the proximity of some grim murders, although he didn’t notice them at first and didn’t realize what peril he was in.
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