Posts Tagged ‘horror’
Like comedy and pornography, horror is a practical art with a concrete aim; it exists to frighten. This utilitarian aspect makes horror a genre that constantly interrogates its own past, examining how other scary movies scared people in order to refine and surpass them. So like almost all of the great horror films,Under the Skin exists in conversation with its forerunners. The main character’s pattern of luring lonely, horny, pasty men to a decrepit house to be consumed by some nightmare secreted from the floor evokes the plot of Clive Barker’s similar meditation on agony in the UK, Hellraiser; a late-game makeup effect recalls its even more uncompromisingly brutal sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The circular, ocular forms that dominate the movie’s abstract opening sequence recall not only the baleful gaze of the killer computer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (a frequent point of comparison in reviews) but also the similar combination of curvilinear shapes and unnerving musical dissonance that kicks off Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a film with which UtS shares an unarticulated but brutal meat-is-murder subtext, one that’s a lot clearer in the source novel).
Another Kubrick masterpiece, The Shining, earns a visual echo in the bird’s-eye-view shots of the characters driving the curvy roads carved through the rugged region. Its long silent passages, in which our sole window into the world of the film is the monster at its center, force us into her skin in a fashion reminiscent of Norman Bates’s clean-up and disposal in Psycho. Indeed, the ominous hums and screeching strings of Mica Levi’s score place it with Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, John Williams’s Jaws, and the Ligeti/Penderecki/Wendy Carlos/Rachel Elkind–dominated soundtrack of The Shining at the top of the horror movie music pantheon.
The list could go on—seriously, I cut several entries for space—but it’s important to note this: None of these elements exist to be spotted, per se. They’re not overt references or homages, but rather a bedrock on which the film can be built into something new and unique. Under the Skin uses our shared vocabulary of horror tropes and techniques to create a new language, just like the disembodied syllables we hear the main character murmur over the stunning, dissociative opening sequence evolve into the words she uses to seduce and destroy.
Under the Skin is one of the best horror movies ever made, and one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period. I make the case for it over at Decider.
You’ve been so unequivocal and public that this book is about the death of Pinhead — full stop, no spoiler warning. Why?
Why not? If I’d been sly about this and not even mentioned the fact that Pinhead — excuse me, the Hell Priest — was going to die, that would have seemed really dumb. It’s actually a really important element of the book, the element of the book which will draw the most attention. He will not be coming back, by the way. That I promise you. There will be no return, no posthumous Frank Sinatra concerts from him.
In reading, I couldn’t help but think about your own life. You’ve been working on this book for years—
Yes, I have been working on this book for years. But I also had a coma, and lost my mother, my father, and the young man who was almost my son, and a lot of other terrible things in the meantime. Even though it might seem that I’ve been diddly-daddling instead of actually writing, a lot of that daddling has been because I was unconscious. I, uh … I take the Fifth. [Laughs.] I’m making a joke of it, but there have been some pretty damn horrible times of late. I’m only just now, after some many years, priming to leave the house. I’ve only been out of the house five times in the last few years. I am now well enough to, actually, finally leave the house. [Sardonically.] Hey, what about that!
In the midst of all this, you revealed that you supported your writing career in the early days by working as a hustler.
Was that really such a revelation? I was surprised. Maybe I hadn’t talked about it in the past, but I didn’t think I’d hidden it too much.
I got the sense that that was a painful time in your life to revisit.
It was, and yet it wasn’t. It was humiliating many times. It was stultifyingly boring much of the time. And it’s bad sex, mainly. [Laughs.] But you can’t have everything. It kept me in bread and cheese through a bad time in my life, fiscally. But do I want to go back to hustling anytime soon? Nope.
For my Grantland debut I spoke with Hellraiser director Clive Barker about his life, his health, and the death of Pinhead. His new book The Scarlet Gospels, which contains exactly that, is in stores today, and it is furious and empathetic and takes no prisoners.
Lord of High Places is my new tumblr collecting images of monstrous birds, for purposes to be revealed. Watch the skies.
The most terrifying television show of 2014 debuted without fanfare at four in the morning the other day, and like the dead lady in The Shining’s Room 237, you had to pass through layers of comforting illusion to uncover the horror within.
Unedited Footage of a Bear starts out as just that: a static shot of a big brown bear, soundtracked by the cameraman’s whispered enthusiasm about the critter’s size (and, for some reason, his ears). After thirty unassuming seconds, an equally innocuous ad for what looks like a prescription allergy medication starts up, with all the usual tropes. A loving but harried mom in a bucolic suburban setting lives in an adenoidal fog, unable to attend to her plucky rugrats, until some pharmaceutical magic wipes away the haze. It’s soon clear this isn’t the real deal — the kids are too shrill, the mom too sickly, and the side effects too numerous for this to be anything but a parody. After all, this is Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s nighttime block of largely bite-sized shows for adult audiences with the audiovisual munchies. Riffing on commercial culture is what they do.
But before you can say “Happy Fun Ball,” the music slowly fades out, the mother’s smile cracks and fades, the yellow police tape of a crime scene looms into view, and the nightmare begins. What follows is eight minutes of pure dread, involving menacing phone calls, crazed doppelgangers, terrified children, attempted vehicular homicide, an ear-splitting soundtrack, and the most harrowing portrayal of psychosis this side of Titicut Follies.
If that bait-and-switch sounds familiar, you’re likely one of the millions of people who caught Too Many Cooks fever a few weeks back. Like Unedited Footage and saccharine drug commercials, TMC took an overfamiliar airtime-filler, in this case the opening credits of a late-‘80s sitcom, and slowly skinned it alive. Lurking within the corny comedy is a machete-wielding killer who stalks his countless castmates through their credit sequences, and eventually remakes TMC’s tv-reality in his own dark image, as if his evil is strong enough to warp the videotape used to capture it.
Too Many Cooks became a viral sensation, and put Adult Swim’s “Infomercials” initiative — an entire series of satirical stand-alone short films by a variety of AS-associated writers and directors, all of them dropped on unsuspecting viewers in the small hours without so much as an official slot on the schedule — on the map. And it cut to the heart of one of TV’s strangest secrets: Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s live-action stoner-comedy block, is making great horror on the regular.
Works cited: Twin Peaks, Marble Hornets, The Philosophy of Horror by Noël Carroll, Pim & Francie by Al Columbia, and Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days.
I’ll be talking The Newsroom, The Comeback, The Walking Dead, and the best shows for a holiday-break binge on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert today at 5:05pm. Tune in here!
“Is there anything more tragic than such a scene of failed self-erasure, when we are reduced to the obscene slime which, against our will, persists in the picture?” (Slavoj Zizek, The Thing from Inner Space)
“Jesus Christ.” (Tom Spurgeon)
A meditation on fucking as the final integrative attempt of a flagging psyche, on the refusal of the sensual half of the self to be repressed. It also includes incest, voyeurism and attempted murder. This comic was scripted by Sean T. Collins, and drawn by Julia Gfrörer, based on “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe. It contains pornographic imagery and is intended for mature audiences. Xerox printed on lavender text weight paper, saddle stitched, 24 pages, $5.
Buy yourself a copy of the new comic Julia and I made! It’s filth, just as Edgar Allan Poe intended.
Come see the total fucking dreamboat pictured above, yours truly, at Comic Arts Brooklyn tomorrow! This year’s CAB will see the debut of The Hideous Dropping Off of the Veil, a new pornographic comic inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” written by me and drawn by Julia Gfrörer. It’s a follow-up to our previous Poe porn collaboration, In Pace Recquiescat (based on “The Cask of Amontillado”), which will also be there, along with everything else Julia’s done lately. I’ll have copies of Flash Forward by me & Jonny Negron, too.
The show runs from 11am-7pm at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 275 N 8th St., in Brooklyn. Come find me at table U28, where I’ll be spending a bunch of time alongside Julia and Michael DeForge; I’ll be easy to spot as the third-sexiest person at the table. Hope to see you there!
RAVENOUS (1999)Don’t let the snakebit production (two directors came and went before Antonia Bird was brought aboard) or the jarring score put you off. Ravenous is a roaringly good cannibal-horror movie, and one of the finest film examples of the “Weird West” subgenre, which situates supernatural evil amid 19th-century America’s wild frontier. Trainspotting’s Robert Carlyle chews more than just the scenery as the lone survivor of a Donner Party-style expedition, while Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, and Jeremy Davies are among the motley crew of a remote Army outpost who try to find his lost companions — and fall into his trap. Spectacular gore, genuinely funny black comedy, and a surprisingly powerful exploration of cowardice in the face of violence make this one worth sinking your teeth into.
I have a couple of entries in Rolling Stone’s fine list of widely overlooked horror films. Find them…if you dare!
Julia and I made a comic about sea monsters, their meaning, and their menace. You can read it at The Nib and buy it in “Deep Trouble,” the latest issue of Symbolia Magazine.
You can also follow the inspiration blog we made for the comic, the-deep-ones.
i made a mix of scary songs for frightened people // download it here // track list in lyrics field in metadata // listening suggestion: let it all take you by surprise // your childhood is over
I’ll be talking Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and (god help me) The Walking Dead on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:40pm today. Click here to tune in!
And if you missed last week’s show, watch it here!
1. Laura Palmer
She gave the show its central mystery, and its zeitgeist-conquering catch phrase: Who killed Laura Palmer? But even though her death is literally what made the story possible, it’s her life that made it matter. Unlike the macabre MacGuffins of so many post-Peaks dead-girl mysteries, Laura was not a beautiful cipher, existing solely to inspire the male detectives investigating her murder. She was a vibrant, complicated character in her own right, the person who best embodied the small-town-secrets theme, and who paid the highest price for those secrets. Her life, and the suffering that ended it, were always foregrounded. And our glimpses of her in the series – a videotape, an audio recording, a diary entry, a visitation from Another Place – were all merely a prelude to her starring role in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, featuring actor Sheryl Lee’s tear-down-the-sky performance of a character coming to grips with the most profound cruelty imaginable. “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic”? Yes. But she’ll live forever.
I ranked the 30 Best Twin Peaks Characters for Rolling Stone. I got so much out of doing all this writing about this show, which I love deeply and think is one of the two or three pinnacles of the entire art form of television. I hope it shows.
Marilyn Burns, star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, has died. She gave perhaps my favorite performance in the history of horror. She hit me hard, and I never healed. Goodbye, final girl.
For letting the trailers fool me, I deserve what I got. I mean, to be fair, they didn’t fool me, exactly — I’m well aware that you can make a good trailer out of pretty much any film. But the movie promised by the trailer was very much my kind of movie: well-acted horror in which the horror dwarfs and makes mock of human ambition and self-conception.
But Godzilla‘s not a horror movie, it’s a blockbuster, and by that I mean blockbuster-as-genre, with all the faults that entails: cardboard-cutout leads, buildings meaninglessly collapsing, paper-thin women characters, and the glories of the U.S. military. (Yes, in a Godzilla movie! No, mentioning Hiroshima once doesn’t cut it!) Everything that was beautiful, moving, and scary in the trailers is beautiful, moving, and scary here, but with the exception of some unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny swipes at CNN, that’s the extent of the film’s value.
The soul of those trailers, Bryan Cranston, is absolutely amazing here, displaying total commitment to the work and bringing me to the brink of tears. The problem is that he’s so much better than everyone else in the movie that (SPOILER ALERT) when he dies at the end of the second reel, any incentive to give a shit dies with him. Seriously, did they not see the problem that sticking with this twist idea would cause? He’s so incandescent in every moment he makes everyone else look like the movie was some kind of community-service sentence. Poor Ken Watanabe is given nothing to do but glower his way through some exposition, and David Strathairn’s disinterest is so palpable I half expected him to take off his mic and walk off the set at any moment. The one exception is Juliette Binoche, but she dies even before Cranston does. Perhaps Cranston’s early departure was mandated by budget or scheduling, but all I can do is critique what wound up on screen, and it’s not even a matter of a counterfactual wherein his character was the lead instead of Aaron Taylor Johnson’s nothing of a Navy bomb technician: His character was the lead for half an hour, and that’s when it was a good movie.
Godzilla has strong kaiju visual effects, certainly stronger than those of Pacific Rim; you watch this and you just think Guillermo Del Toro should be even more embarrassed for himself than he already ought to be. But it’s hardly novel in that regard: The Mist and especially Cloverfield pioneered the use of modern-day CGI to convey the horror of scale, and in those films the one-dimensional characters and hackneyed tear-jerking moments are more easily forgotten since they really are horror movies, and really do try and occasionally succeed to be frightening and bleak. For all the ranting about how Gojira will send us back to the Stone Age, this is no apocalypse: Godzilla‘s supposed to leave you cheering and hungry for the sequel. It lacks the courage of Cranston’s convictions.
What inspired you to make this Poe Porn (lol)?
Sean: Julia and I have a lot in common, and one of those things happened to be a fascination with this particular Poe story, which we’d both read at an impressionable age.
Julia: I felt like Sean’s script was such an effective interpolation of the original story because in a sense it wasn’t radical at all, its constituent elements are entirely native to the source material. There are hints of regret, of reluctance, almost tenderness, supporting the maniacal sadism. The meticulousness with which Montresor inflicts the final act of cruelty on his friend already carries an erotic undertone–maybe not all readers experience that, but Sean and I didn’t invent it.
Sean: In “The Cask of Amontillado” I recognized a link between the genres of horror and pornography. Both frequently rely on a sense of certainty for their visceral emotional impact: When you begin to read or watch a horror story, you know that a terrible thing will happen, and frequently so does the character to whom it’s going to happen. In pornography, as in sex generally, you know that when your partner begins touching you, you have entered into a process that will end with you briefly losing control of your own body, unable to think of anything but the pleasure your partner is effectively forcing you to experience at the expense of everything else. In both cases that certainty is magnetic to minds trapped in our unforgivingly inconstant and unpredictable world. Dread and eroticism are two sides of the same coin neither of us can stop flipping in the art we make or consume.
Julia: Right, I rarely respond to a sex scene that doesn’t have some foreboding attached to it. The sense that the world has stopped and what’s happening right now is the only thing that matters or exists is romantic, but it also feels like something on the verge of panic.
Sean: “The Cask of Amontillado” and Montresor’s revenge scheme both depend on that certainty — on Montresor letting Fortunato know exactly what’s happening to him, and exactly what will continue to happen to him until he dies. There just came a day when I wondered what would happen if Montresor’s mental circuit overloaded and that horrific mastery over another human being became erotic mastery over the same person. This was the result.
We hope to do more Poe-nography together, actually. We’ve been talking about “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Julia: “The Pit and the Pendulum” seemed a little on the nose.
The marvelous writer/musician/dominatrix Hether Fortune interviewed me and Julia Gfrörer about In Pace Requiescat, our pornographic adaptation of/extrapolation from “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, for Slutist.You can buy the comic here.
1. I posted about this on my A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, and even before I made the connection with ASoIaF about ten seconds before I did so, I was thinking today about how Godzilla is presented here the way I like dragons to be presented in stories — as a total upending of all human endeavor.
2. It’s just such a pleasure to hear and see Bryan Cranston again, particularly since the Breaking Bad finale left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not his fault — he’s a magnificent actor. Listen to how his voice is constantly breaking and being repaired, like, as an ongoing process effected through force of will. Watch how his eyes shift back and forth at the end of that opening speech, as though he’s so consumed by what he’s saying he can’t really decide how, or if, to focus it.
3. This is the kind of tonal commitment I like to see in genre work, provided it doesn’t devolve into self-seriousness. And I’ll admit, that line is thin, and subjectively drawn. But playing Godzilla as a horror movie, which it originally was, seems as valid a place as any to take the assumptions of the genre work in question and hit hard with them.