Sunday, October 30, 2005
It's Hallow'een again, and once more I'm failed by the national Broadcaster. Bank holiday viewing on the terristrial channels always revolves around several doses of under thought out, straight to video movies for brats or Hollywood blockbusters to unite the family just after the watershed. This year is no different, with RTE giving the finger to the season of fright, by dishing out Omen II as its flagship horrow classic, ripped out of its context as part of a series and lazily used to shore up a Hallow'een schedule. The Omen does rate as one of the classics of the genre, but whats at stake here is more than a mind-numbing, anti-dotes to The Clinic or whatever drama cum soap is always on RTE2 - its the sources of my horror kicks this weekend and how the relative artistic merit of them.
In an older psycoanalytical schema, the gothic novel and the horror movie allowed those sexualities and life-choices which were expunged as deviant to masquerade momentarily as threats on the screen or page before being viciously jettisoned as the old order was re-established in the closing moments. In this light, we see Dracula representing a virulent sexuality, that contaminates the young Lucy turning her into a ravishing, buxom-laden blonde, who moves from being a child on the path towards adopting her role as breeder within a tight Victorian marriage to feasting on an orphan in the graveyard. Dracula is also presented as the haunting memory of the feudal lord, returning to enact traditional claims on the female childern of the bourgeoise in the new commercial city of London. Suitably, this homosexual retrobate is returned to dust by that tryptch of emerging power, a scientist, a protestant vicar and an overly zealous, jilted and legalistically minded lawyer who earlier in the novel took the pleasure of thrusting a phallic stake into the corrupted virginal body of his wife to be, much to her orgiastic moans.
While sci-fi always grappled with sub-plots of deeply political meaning just think the finger pointing of the McCarthney era in Invasion of The Body Snatcher , the horror of the early cinema up until the late sixties still dwelled on the issue of sexuality with the practically soft-core approach of Hammer satisfyting the mastabatory fantasies of the teenage male. Yet while maintaining a cover of Satanic garb and velvet candlemasses, one film changed all of this. Rosemary's Baby explored issues of feminine control of the body, with its graphic depiction of a rape sub-plot and its representation of a masculine dominated medical profession, with its refusal to listen to the lead characters concerns over her dwindling mental health as the foetus developed in the womb. The overtly image based references to LSD of course helped the films success in abundance. So what was to emerge here was a form of horror film more closely referencing frission in the world outside rather than the psychological horror of previous films. Polanski would later effectively kill off the Hammer style with Excuse Me? But Your Teeth Seem To Be Stuck In My Mouth albeit an affectionate satire, it removed al potential for doing anything but laughing at the genre.
In the arena of post-modernity, it was the video nasty, that would most closely circulate a break from the religious based super-natural with the threat coming from forces all too human, usually that of over-bearing males, with a history of rape and slashing as in the Nightmare on Elm Street Series. Skip forward a generation and the rapists were having their asses kicked by a Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that didn't rely on a power giving lycra suit like traditional heroines like Wonder Womne, but directly took on those bad guys that would upset the quiet boredom of her home town. For anyone who hasn't seen it - the last episode of the series is a must see, with the show referencing wholesale the excessive academic analysis that emerged around it a response to the identity politics of the 1990's. The heroes narrowly escape a gaint fireball, then watch Sunnydale collapse into the hell-hole it always was left to wonder if the rest of the world was aware of such things as Starbucks and Nike runners.
But amidst this and closely aligned with the pollitically salient sci-fi of the 1950's and sixties was the zombie flick. For those that would wager horror as a genre was effectively dead, lost of its appeal to the deep seated remnants of Catholic up-bringings that propelled the fright. There has been a cerain re-awakening of the genre with the lastest in Alfredo Romero's Zombie series. Land of the Dead is a future where Terminater meets Mad Max, with an overture towards the dystopia of Robocops Delta City. The opening of Shaun of the Dead, a loving parody of Romero's work would parody much of the sociological weight attached to the zombie flick, with its credits set against the monotonous routine behaviour of commuters, and lowly wage slaves/zombies. On his first movie, Night Of The Living Dead, Romero commented that "I didn't want to just do horror. I didn't think of them as zombies. It was the '60s, man, we were just smoking and talking about politics. It was about revolution."
Ever since the popularity of Night Of The Living Dead, with its accidental analogy of a black leader being shot by a backward police force, Romero has always used a black lead to pour scorn on the faultlines of contemporary culture. The result is a pastiche of obvious methapors, such as the zombies attraction to the mall in Dawn Of The Dead, with lines like "you are hypnotised by this place all of you, its so neat and brightly wrapped you can't see that its a prison too?" directed at the remaining humans. Other classic lines like "they are not canibals...these creatures prey on humans, they do not prey on each other thats the difference" show the movies entering the realm of ethical debate on the inhumanity of man. The raiding parties on a wasteland suburbia in Land Of The Dead are so closely meant to represent the occupation of Iraq, that at times it gets tedious with one character going "I thought this was a battle this is a massacre."
Of course, whatever theories I may have about zombies representing dead labour come back to haunt the living linbgering in my head after years of doing English. There's no doubt that this sort of lark is purely compensation for mindrot by attaching doped up stoned metaphors to the subtleties of horror.
A Personal Top Ten:
1. The Innocents: Made in 1961, a young govenor is convinced two siblings in her care are possessed by a deceased servant and maid. This is pure psychological horror that remains unclosed till the end as to wheter the lead female is mad, or she is at the heart of a dark haunting. The suggestions that the siblings are having sex is frightful enough, this was the movie The Others ripped off. Unmissable.
2. Freaks: Straight back to the '30s with this one, and a controversial decision to see an ensemble of real life side show freaks hired for the parts. The film explores the relationsip dynamics between a show-girl who marries a midget for his money. The Ramones loved it, "Gabba Gabba we accept you" being the terryifying chant of the freaks as they enact their revenge at the end.
3. Lost Boys: With a wonderful soundtrack this film laid the grounds for much of the comedic horrors aimed at a self-aware youth market ever since. Think Buffy, but set in the Eighties.
4. The Nightmare On Elm Street Series: Yep, Mo-fu, thats how fucking hardcore we are over here. There's no point watching one when you can catch the lot. While the first film terrified the fuck out of anyone who curls their toes for safety at night, when you see Freddy whimper and run away from his ma by number 4, you know this is an accidental comic classic. Beware the bastard son of a 100 maniacs!
5. Rosemary's Baby: Two hours of pure suspense and inner torment that leaves you shivering.
6. The Wickerman: A Scottish bobby, heads over to a remote Scottish Island to explore the disappearance of a young girl, uncovering in its wake the pagan sexuality and rituals that its islan folk have taken on. The inspiration for
7. Dolores Claiborne: While not technically a horror, this movie comes from the mind of Stephen King and is definitely not one to watch alone. A young award winning journalist returns to her mother who is suspected of murder, forced to explore her own sexual abuse and the abuse of the men in her community who exercise institutional discretion. Horrifying.
8. The Exorcist. The novel was terrifying, but the film was farcical. I challenge anyone not to laugh when that kid starts shouting "fuck me!" and stabbing her self in the gee with a crucifix. Watch this with a squemish friends and your hysterical laughs will terrify them more than any satanci rite
9. The Omen: The movie that perfected the use of demonic childern as the best prospect for on screen terror there is. Is it because of this film that a generation of us remain terrified of a child's trike?
10. Psycho: Christ, that final scanning of the camera across Bates' eyes at the end is enough to make me shit me cacks.
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