Posts Tagged horror
A few years ago, Samuel Cohen died at age 89 in his Los Angeles home. He was the inventor of the neutron bomb – a bomb designed to kill the enemy while leaving the surrounding infrastructure untouched. He called it “the most sane weapon ever devised”.
It seems like summer blockbusters have the opposite problem. In films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Darkest Hour we see entire cities crumbling and destroyed – but what about the humans? These movies still want to rack up a decent bodycount but can’t have bloody bodies lying around. They’ve got to avoid a rating that’d prevent young audiences from buying tickets, after all. And stories about alien invasions don’t get to play the Saving Private Ryan card of historically accurate, ‘important’ violence.
The weaponsmiths of the evil Decepticons of Transformers and the invisible aliens of Darkest Hour reached the same solution: disintegration. No blood, no gore, no bodies left behind. Just show bodies turning to ash, show the ash spiralling in the wind, and then show them gone. Vanished. Now your next cool action set piece won’t be choking on leftover corpses!
Old westerns used to be mocked for the way that cowboys would just clutch their chests and die instantly and painlessly – but at least we saw them fall. They didn’t just flicker away like cannon fodder in a videogame. A PG-rated Hiroshima is its own kind of hell.
Daniel Clowes’ comic The Death Ray is a sort of decoder ring for the violent, adolescent urges behind Michael Bay’s Transformers. Not only does its titular weapon not leave anything behind; we don’t see the disintegration at all. Instead Clowes tucks all the violence into the gutter between panels, leaving only a bloodless there-one-moment, gone-the-next. Andy, the boy who becomes a vigilante named for the gun, has a recurring nightmare:
“There was this street with these big white berries growing on it, and as soon as a person ate one they would start to disappear. This process seemed to be both physically painful and super-terrifying.” He says that no matter what, he “couldn’t get away from the nothingness.”
The nothingness. Most sane. Super-terrifying.
Steven Spielberg made his own post-Private Ryan sci-fi film: War of the Worlds. Its aliens were also fond of disintegration. (Blame H.G. Wells.) But the way Spielberg visually linked the leftover ash to the aftermath of 9/11 gave it gravity – and he was respectful enough to ensure something was left. Even if it was just the victims’ clothes, fluttering to the ground.
Here’s my quick review of new Spanish horror Julia’s Eyes from the current issue of triple j magazine. I’ve decided I like it even more since I wrote this. A few of the setpieces are still rattling around in my head, and it’s tone reminded me a little of The Haunting…
Director: Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar
I’m wary when I see a filmmaker “presenting” another’s film. I figure it usually just means trading a famous name on the poster for a giant-sized cheque. So far, though, Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) has managed to get two great Spanish horror films a wider release. First there was the excellent ghost story The Orphanage, and now comes Julia’s Eyes.
Belén Rueda plays twins: one who’s killed in mysterious (and, uh, fairly terrifying) circumstances, and her sister who becomes obsessed with uncovering what happened. Both suffer from degenerative blindness that gets worse with fear-induced stress. Julia’s Eyes isn’t remotely concerned with its mystery making sense. It’s bloody fantastic, though, at setting up smart, scary setpieces. Is there someone in the house? Why can’t I see his face? Some of its stylistic gimmicks would’ve failed in lesser hands, but here they’re used to make you feel like you’re going mad.
Julia’s Eyes isn’t as tight as The Orphanage, but they’re both great, old-school rollercoasters, genuinely scary and genuinely fun.
Other reviews this month: Get Low in cinemas; Howl and Unstoppable on DVD.
Issue #51 on sale now.
This is an extended remix of half my presentation from last week’s Twin Peaks nine-hour marathon at ACMI. I was especially gratified to demand – and receive – a rousing round of applause for the regularly ignored Mark Frost, too.
Did you see the Twin Peaks homage-slash-reunion on this week’s episode of Psych?
The fact that it’s so odd to Peaks’ actors, all grown up, shows how few have had successful post-Peaks careers. Kyle MacLachlan might’ve been on Sex and The City and Desperate Housewives, but it’s always a little sad to see Agent Cooper playing these neutered, neurotic characters. Ray Wise has fared better, with memorable roles including the Devil himself on short-lived slacker comedy Reaper.
Sometimes this curse that follows cult TV stars can almost seem like a gift to that show’s fans; it lets the characters freeze, unaging, with the men and women who embodied them tucked out of the public eye like they’re trapped in Dorian Gray’s attic.
The fact that the New York Times considered this Psych episode newsworthy shows how Twin Peaks still circulates strongly through popular culture. Recently, there have been a bunch of twenty-years-later articles, all unearthing fun facts about the show; like the fact that it was David Lynch himself who placed the sand, grain by grain, on Sheryl Lee’s face for the infamous ‘wrapped in plastic’ moment.
She said: “It was a great learning experience playing a corpse. I got to be a sponge and soak up everything.” I always wished Sheryl Lee – as Laura Palmer, and later, her cousin Maddie – deserved to be bestowed the status of full-blown Scream Queen, equal to Fay Wray or Jamie Lee Curtis.
But I’ve also made the case – in print, no less – that Twin Peaks is a much more satisfying show if you see it as a soap opera, and not a mystery. Laura is just a reason to kick off the plot. She gives some characters something to hide and others something to uncover. Sure, we’re told Laura is “full of secrets” – but when we look deeply into her eyes on video tape, it’s not to see into her soul. It’s just to see the reflection of something else in the same scene.
What if Laura’s not just wrapped in plastic, but made of plastic, too?
Today, though, I think I’ve changed my mind, and misjudged Laura Palmer by labelling her an easy narrative excuse. The follow-up movie Fire Walk With Me (infamously booed on its premiere at Cannes) is a Herculean attempt to turn Laura back into a human being. It acts as a kind of retroactive apology for how Laura was treated throughout the show.
Fire Walk With Me begins with the destruction of a television set; a not exactly subtle way of violently highlighting that what you’re about to watch will be different than anything you saw on TV. While Twin Peaks was regularly terrifying – in fact, I still believe it’s the most frightening thing to ever appear on network TV – the movie is relentless. It’s the kind of film that leaves you wanting a shower afterwards.
(I’m going to tread carefully from this point to avoid spoilers for a twenty-year-old show. That’s how much I care.)
Just as Laura can be seen as an excuse, so can some of the show’s supernatural elements. It never sat right with me how Laura’s killer was, in essence, forgiven for all crimes by Peaks’ possession plotline. Fire Walk With Me, however, strips those excuses away again.
After the Black Lodge and the backwards talking and the David Bowie cameo and the inexplicably chilling monkey-face that appears from behind a mask, Fire Walk With Me shows us the psychic toll of all this horror on Laura herself.
And it leaves us with a broken young woman who – despite all those TV Guide cover stories and I Killed Laura Palmer T-shirts – finally finds some kind of peace.