Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top 10 Horror Films

Well, as a Halloween treat, here it is:  my favorite horror films list, in order of preference.  I don't really have time to write about each individually right now, but I'll try to write another post doing just that at some point.  A lot of great films that I love just missed out on the list, but I feel confident and content with the ten on here.  Enjoy:

10. The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks, 1951)

9. Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973)

8. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)

7. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

6. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

5. The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945)

4. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

3. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

2. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Really hard to leave off the list:  Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960), Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965), The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980), Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978), Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963), Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999), Horror of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958), The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)


Hey guys.  I've been in a bit of a writing slump as of late.  It seems this might be a little contagious.  I'm glad to see a recent mini-flurry of posts however. It's rejuvenating.  I'll try to respond to as much stuff as I can.

Brandon and Chris, I can't add anything too substantive to the objectivity discussion.  We all bring a multiplicity of ideas, sensations, judgments (and prejudgments) to any films we encounter.  The nature and extent of all these multiplicities is unique to each of us, and probably unique to each film.  Honest reaction is a good precept to follow, but sometimes it's just too hard to weed out all of the information we've acquired.  I readily admit to being influenced by factors outside of the films themselves at times.  It's part of the curse of being interested in criticism and film culture.  I like knowing who makes films and what others are saying about them.  I try to be as honest as possible in addressing a film, but a lot of times I'm just biased for a variety of reasons, and y'all can feel free to call me out on it anytime.  I'll try my best to either defend or dissemble. :)

Tim Burton is one of the most instantly recognizable pop entertainment auteurs of the last few decades.  There's no denying it whether you care for him or not.  And I remain a big fan of his.  When he's on and true to his aesthetic, there's nothing quite like him.  Like both of you, I find ALICE IN WONDERLAND to be intensely problematic and ultimately hollow (Sorry John, but it's a overly-CG stinker).  I found FRANKENWEENIE enjoyable (it's often a fun game of spot-the-reference) albeit stretched a little too thin.  I'm still curious to see DARK SHADOWS.  It didn't appear to be THAT bad, and it has some important people backing it, so I'll try to see it.

John, I have to say, I agree entirely with you on DARK CITY.  I liked it a lot back in the day, and even bought a copy of it, but I watched it a few years ago, and it didn't really hold up that well.  There's fascinating stuff in it, but all told it just feels cold and clunky now. You're right - Sutherland's performance is exquisitely ham-fisted, and certainly one of the most repellant things about it.  I'm with you on this one.

I haven't seen any of Argento's recent work.  From what I've heard though, he hasn't made anything of note or quality in some time.  So, while I would love to remind you not to judge him solely on his current output, I have sneaking suspicion that you wouldn't care for his older films either.  Just a hunch. :)

Your points on the horror genre are well taken.  I don't know if I have the energy to respond to it all in great detail.  I'll just say that I share your concerns over who is watching these films, and what impact it is having on them, but only insomuch as I am concerned with all types of media and the cretins that consume them.  On issues of craft, certainly I'm rarely scared by horror films anymore, as I too am overly-sensitive to the director's and editor's hand holding sway over everything.  But I must agree with Brandon that there are a plethora of genius craftsmen at the helm of many films in the genre.  His listing of some of those names is really the only argument one needs to give the genre some credit.  Still, I understand your reservations when it comes to horror.  I doubt I'll be the one to convince you otherwise.

Speaking of horror, I'm working at school now, but I'm gonna post my horror top 10 list when I get home sometime.  It won't be that enlightening, and you can already imagine what'll be on it, but it'll be nice get something extra posted today.

Happy Halloween CR5FC!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Top 10 Treehouse of Horror Segments

Before I do a top 10 horror film list, I just wanted to post my top 10 favorite segments of THE SIMPSONS' Treehouse of Horror series.  Lots of hilarious ones to choose from.

10. The Homega Man (TOH VIII, Season (9)

Favorite quote/moment:

A tie between Homer reading the Gary Larson Calendar – "I don't get it.  I don't get it.  I don't get it. I don't...get it." – and this exchange:

Homer: You want me? Come and get me!
Mutant Moe: Get him!
Homer: D'oh!

9. The Devil and Homer Simpson (TOH IV, Season 5)

Favorite quote/moment:

After Homer's head is transformed into a doughnut, Chief Wiggum and the entire police force are outside waiting for him with their coffee mugs: "Don't worry, boys.  He's got to come out of there sometime!"

8. The Thing and I (TOH VII, Season 8)

Favorite quote/moment:

Lisa and Bart discovering the unsold copies of Homer's autobiography.

7. Lisa's Nightmare: "The Monkey's Paw" (TOH II, Season 3)

Favorite quote/moment:

Homer realizing the monkey's paw is actually inauspicious: "Come to think of it, the guy that sold me this thing did say the wishes would bring me grave misfortune.  I thought he was just being colorful."

6. Time and Punishment (TOH V, Season 6)

Favorite quote/moment:

A tie between –

Homer: "Wow...I've gone back to a time when dinosaurs weren't just confined to zoos."


Homer: "Stupid bug, you go squish now!"

5. Fly vs. Fly (TOH VIII, Season 9)

Favorite quote/moment: 

Professor Frink: "Good morning, m'am; good afternoon, sir.  It passed noon while I was speaking so that was technically accurate."

Homer trying to steal sugar from the mutant fly Bart is pretty hilarious too.

4. Dial 'Z' For Zombies (TOH III, Season 4)

Favorite quote/moment:

It's got to be –

Bart: "Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!"
Homer: "He was a zombie?"

Still one of the all-time great jokes.

3. Clown Without Pity (TOH III, Season 4)

Favorite quote/moment:

Homer's vaudeville exchange with the GREMLINS shop owner:

Owner: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse...
Homer: Ooooh, that's bad.
Owner: But it comes with a free frogurt!
Homer: That's good!
Owner: The frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That's bad.
Owner: But you get your choice of toppings!
Homer: That's good!
Owner: The toppings contain Potassium Benzoate. [Homer stares blankly] That's bad.
Homer.  Can I go now?

Also great – Homer: "The doll's trying to kill me and the toaster's been laughing at me!"

2. Bart Simpson's Dracula (TOH IV, Season 5)

Favorite quote/moment:

Far too many to single out just one.  But I'll go with a tie between:

Grampa: Quick, we have to kill the boy!
Marge: How'd you know he's a vampire?
Grampa: He's a vampire? Aaaaaahhh!

(Same joke as in Dial "Z" For Zombies but still genius).


Homer: "Oh Lisa, you and your stories.  Bart's a vampire; beer kills brain cells.  Now let's go back to that building...thingy...where our beds and"

Chief Wiggum's "most likely a mummy" comment kills me each time, too.

1. The Shinning (TOH V, Season 6)

Favorite quote/moment:

Another one with too many great quotes and moments to name.

My favorite, though, has to be Homer mimicking Jack Nicholson with the axe, trying to find the rest of his family:

Homer: Daaaaaavid Letterman!
Grampa: Hi David, I'm grampa.
Homer: D'oh!

Gets me every time.

Also hysterical:

Marge: [on radio] Husband on murderous rampage.  Send help.  Over.
Chief Wiggum: Whew, thank God that's over.  I was worried there for a little bit.


Homer: "Hmm. Cable's out.  Think I'll have a beer.  Hmm.  Not a drop in the house.  What do ya know."
Marge: "Homer, I'm impressed! You're taking this quite well.
Homer: "I'll kill you!  I'll kill all of you!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Boos are Back in Town

Boo Boys

Sorry if I sound awkward in my first Boo to you John.  I felt like I was leaving a really long answering machine message.  Also sorry if the pitch of my voice keeps changing.  I'm not good at talking into microphones.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One More Round

Brandon, I’m glad to be a participating in this debate even if it is already dated.  Just good to be chatting with friends.  Thanks for the response.  I am actually glad you challenged me on certain things because it allows us to keep the conversation going.  If you had merely agreed, I wouldn’t have anything to say.  So thanks for that.

That torture porn “denunciation” was fun to write, but I should make it clear that I don’t feel that strongly against this particular genre.  I mean don’t consider it anathema or morally reprehensible, nor do I particularly care that it exists. I just don't like it or want to see it.  And I should make it clear that I wasn’t really disgusted by either HOSTEL or MARTYRS.  I found them both inordinately gross and unpleasant to watch, but I was able to shake them off with relative ease.  They didn’t upset my life in any way; they were just disturbing enough that I had to ask myself at several points why I was exactly watching them and what I was getting out of them.  MARTYRS, I felt, ultimately gave me something to connect to or ponder that made the unpleasant experience worthwhile.  HOSTEL, I felt, did not.  I honestly don’t know how I would end HOSTEL.  Perhaps, you’re right and it can’t end any other way.  I just know that I found that revenge third act to be labored, predictable, and thoughtless after all I had to sit through.  I guess I just prefer the complexity of MARTYRS’ ending and the fact that it had the guts to be so nihilistic about the violence it depicted.  There’s a glimmer of hope for revenge in Roth’s films and no hope in Laugier’s.  I can see the appeal of HOSTEL and would agree that it goes about its business in an efficient manner.  MARTYRS just gave me more to latch onto (I’m sorry to almost turn this into a MARTYRS vs. HOSTEL debate.  Those are just my most recent touchstones when it comes to the TP genre).

My comments about torture porn “wounding the heart” were really just supposed to reflect the negative reaction they have on me.  Torture porn that I feel is being cruel in its depiction (very smugly trying to make you feel awful without any self-awareness) wounds me in a very callous way.  I understand that torture is something that happens in our world.  It’s possible to depict torture or its outcomes (MARTYRS or NIGHT AND FOG) and make it penetrate the heart with a purpose towards shaking us out of apathy or lack of compassion.  But it’s also entirely possible to depict torture where you try to wound the emotions of your audience for your own gain.  It all comes down to the intent of the filmmaker.  Are they trying to be brave and make a statement about the depths of human cruelty and the need to prevent it or are they trying to make money off of grossing us out with all their demented concoctions?  I think you say perfectly here what I feel towards the latter: “I have a certain violent reaction to artists who want to beat me over the head with their art, I want to hit back. The most annoying aspect of this dying phenomenon is the way these directors, almost always men, seem so pleased with themselves simply because they have dirty minds. You see them all smirking when they speak about their atrocities, as though they actually believe that they have committed an act of bravery in making their cash cow.”

You're right – the implied is not always scarier than what is seen, it just usually is, and I find it more effective.

When I was mentioning craft,  I was essentially referring to the actually craft of depicting extensive torture.  99% of the time, I just don’t find it necessary.  I’m not doubting the talent of Laugier, Roth, or whoever directed WOLF CREEK.  The first two I know have talent, and I’m sure the other guy does too.  I was just making the argument that extensive torture is usually uncessary on film (i.e. bad craft).  It is like depicting a very long and graphic sex scene.  Would be difficult to justify either in terms of craft or narrative.

You do make a good point about how these torture porn films have something to say, even if that theme is ultimately shallow or banal.  I wasn’t trying to say that they are pointless perse, just that I usually don’t find that their point justifies their content.  MARTYRS being the huge exception.  I think from all of this, we’ve made it clear that depicting torture is a very precarious enterprise.  If handled shrewdly, it could be potentially powerful.  If handled mindlessly, it could be THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE series.  It seems we get too much of the latter and could do without it entirely.  We probably don’t need too many of the former either, but should at least appreciate one when it comes along.

Yep, I’m still hoping to do a top 10 horror list.  But would, of course, do a top 10 underrated list too.  Let’s make it happen!  Good talk indeed, my man.

Jason, thanks for the response too.  I’m glad I’ve been able to redeem myself somewhat in your eyes. haha.  And I’m glad I had the open mind to find something of worth in MARTYRS, even if it was unpleasant to watch.  Perhaps I’m becoming a better film watcher.

I haven’t seen I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE or THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT so I can’t really comment on those specifically, but I essentially agree with all you’re saying.  I don’t think works of art (horror films included) need to say anything profound.  They can say all kinds of things and still be worthwhile (depending on what each of us deems “worthwhile,” of course).  But, I hear you, it’s tough to sit through brutal films when the barrier has broken down and you are experiencing something instead of observing it.  Can you imagine torture porn in 3D at 60 fps?  That’s probably going to be the new thing.  Trying to make the experience of tortue as “real” as possible.  Yikes.

And I’m with you. I prefer quick deaths in film too.  They’re just easier to separate yourself from (less traumatic), but it’s still possible to make us feel the consequences of death or violence with them.  You don’t need extensive death sequences to get a point across.  Anticipating the actual death is usually the best part anyway.

“The only time I appreciate a film pushing the envelope is when it's doing something new, or at least something that hasn't been done in awhile.”  I hear ya.  But, I’m glad, as Brandon mentioned, that the torture porn genre is dying down now.  Definitely for the best.  It’s gotten beyond tired.

Still, it was fun to debate and talk about it.  Even if the genre itself is losing steam, I’m glad we aren’t.  Good to be back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On Torture Porn

Brandon, good to be interacting on the blogs again.  It's funny how often we have discussions over violence, torture, and "crossing the line" in film.  But these are discussions that have been going on throughout the history of horror cinema.  You and Jason described what makes the horror genre fascinating and rich to discuss so beautifully.  The genre, by its very nature, consistently transgresses the line of good taste and acceptability, pushing us and standards in the process.  I think, in that way, I don't hate torture porn because by being excessive and pushing boundaries, it at least elicits strong reactions from us and gives us something to discuss.  Torture porn or extreme cinema is just the horror genre being taken to its limits.  Some would say that there are no limits to what you can show on a screen (and to a degree, I would concur), but I think Jason did a wonderful job explaining that there actually is a limit and once you transgress it you have disrespected the line between horror and reality and audience and representation.  It's a strong argument to make and one I'll get into further below.
"As far as the content is concerned I feel the need to point out that I don’t think any film should feel the need to hold back, as long as nothing (animal or human, but especially animal or child) is hurt physically or emotionally in the process."  Amen.  I'm with you completely here.  I don't think films should feel compelled to censor themselves, to be acceptable, or even to be respectable.  Like you said, as long as no creature is being hurt in the process, depict away.  Eli Roth can make all the HOSTEL films he wants; Tom Six can make all the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films he wants.  They have an audience, and if they ever don't, then they'll stop making them.  Like you said, we are a consumer culture, so I can reserve the right not to see them if I don't want to, or to turn them off if I find them offensive.  You'll never hear me say that you absolutely shouldn't depict torture on film, but if I watch a film with it and I think it's gratuitously or excessively done, you'll absolutely hear me criticize it.  I reserve that right as well.

I'm with you, Jason, and Gentile.  I like my horror at a distance from reality.  I vastly prefer something like CABIN FEVER to MARTYRS.  If only because it gets under my skin less and doesn't make me want to kill myself.  I'd also prefer something like FUNNY GAMES or something like DAWN OF THE DEAD to it because of the distancing effect they have through Brechtian alienation or outright humor.  I didn't enjoy watching MARTYRS in the least bit, but I respect its decision to condemn itself.  It's purposefully vile, gritty, and emotionally taxing like the worst kind of torture porn, but thankfully, it knew the importance of refuting itself.  I'm glad it ended the way it did.  Otherwise it would have just been an exercise in excess.  I'm with you.  I didn't like the penultimate twist.  I thought the film was good (a little too non-stop brutal for my taste, but good) up until the torture turn.  I just didn't see the point of depicting something in detail that had been previously implied.  To me, it seemed no different than showing a pregnant person early on in a film and then towards the end showing a 20 minute sex scene to confirm to us that, yes, this is way babies are made.  We already understand the depth of torture that this secret society has undergone throughout its history.  Seeing the remains of the women that have been tortured will forever be scarier than any of the scenes where we actually see torture take place.  And this is a big problem I have with torture porn.  To me, a good horror film that is trying to scare us knows when to depict violence and when not to.  And I think the best horror directors would tell you that the most horrifying thing they can do is put an idea into the viewer's head.  What is implied and what we imagine from it will always scare us more than what we see because it is unknown and unverifiable.  Torture porn doesn't understand this quality, which I think is bad craft.

But bad craft isn't the worst thing about torture porn.  On a purely emotional level, it completely manipulates our relationship with representation in a cruel way.  Like you and Jason were saying, we watch people being tortured on screen and we cannot help but empathize with them because at that moment they are reduced to their most vulnerable and helpless states.  Anything we don't like about them as characters is wiped away at that moment, and all we can see is a terrified creature that can feel pain being extensively damaged.  The line between fiction and reality is crossed and we feel emotionally violated.  Maurice Blanchot, in his book THE INFINITE CONVERSATION (where this blog's title comes from) ruminates on a form of communication that can go beyond the linguistic or the symbolic (cannot be subsumed by power).  In doing this, he arrives at the concept of the "cry" or the "murmur" as a form of communication that doesn't have to be processed symbolically (when we hear it we know what it means without having to think on it).  I think torture porn plays on the concept of the "cry."  It reaches us on a purely emotional and human level where we don't have to think about what we're seeing, we can just feel the emotional pain it's eliciting in us.  To me, this is the worst thing about torture porn: it purposefully wounds the heart.

MARTYRS wounds us very deliberately.  And I didn't like that about it.  But what I did like is that it realized that if it was going to wound us this way, it needed to refute itself and emphatically condemn torture.  And it does.  At the end, it says that there will be no silver lining out of anything that has been depicted within it.  Torture is the worst kind of nihilism, and it destroys souls.  Being so extreme, this is the message it needed to have, and I'm glad it did.

I think one of my big problems with the HOSTEL films was that they tried to be as disgusting and disturbed as they possibly could without having a distancing effect and without having a finale that condemned torture.  Roth's answer to torture in those films is to inflict it back without any thought on it, other than that revenge is sweet and it's fun to make people squirm (the audience, that is).  I won't deny that the torturers in HOSTEL deserve everything they get in the end (they do), nor will deny that the woman at the end of MARTYRS deserves far worse than she gets (she does).  But to me, vengeance at the end of a torture film is just a quick answer that doesn't force us to reflect but gives us more violence and pain to hold onto.  What MARTYRS does is then more complex and thoughtful because it gives us a philosophy to reflect on.  To me, its statement on nothingness is more satisfying than vengeance because it's an ontological argument for why torture is the most cruel and meaningless action imaginable.  It's not just an easy fix but an idea for us to connect to.  In this way, it respects us and our response to torture, even as it has already disrespected us by crossing the line.  Do you know what I'm saying?

There's a deeper meaning to all we see in MARTYRS even if it's ultimately just as disgusting as something like HOSTEL.  HOSTEL is a fucked up cycle, content to repeat itself, but MARTYRS is fucked up with a punctuation.  It knows it must take a stand.  This I appreciate.

Now with that all being said, I'm not trying to argue that all films with violence need to condemn themselves or make sweeping intellectual statements on the nature of violence.  I just think if you are going to cross the line that Jason suggested, or if you are going to purposefully violate us emotionally with torture, you'd better have reason for doing it, and you'd better have something to say.  If not, you absolutely deserve the epithet "torture porn."

Monday, October 8, 2012


Ah, Brandon.  Well said on MARTYRS.  I'm surprised to find myself agreeing with you on it.  It's a horrible film to watch, but it's smart.  And that's its saving grace.  Despite its extremity, it's intelligent enough to refuse to be another entry in gratuitous extreme cinema.  Whether or not one wants to argue that it ultimately cannot escape its gratuity, one still should realize how it reflects on itself in a very meaningful way.

It seems we both caught the PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC homage. You're very right – Anna's resemblance of Falconetti is quite deliberate and instantly recognizable.  Even right before she is flayed, there is a close-up of her shaved and battered head that would be simply unmistakable to anyone familiar with Dreyer's film.  I think it was at that point that I started to perk up a bit.  I was revolted, but intrigued.  After she's flayed and enters her state of euphoria where she no longer feels pain, I was again worried though, even if I felt some relief in knowing there was a modicum of alleviation to her suffering.  I just didn't want the film to make a point about learning to accept suffering, therefore, validating the designs of the torture society and validating its own violence/brutality.  This, to me, would have been way too cruel a statement to make after all we had been forced to sit through.

But the film's final turn is 100% crucial to its ultimate refutation of its own violence and the very nature of cruelty and torture.  Anna enters a euphoric state and presumably gains insight into the afterlife.  She passes on her knowledge to the leader of the torture society, and the leader shoots herself in the head over it.  The meaninglessness of her torture has been reveled.  In the end, Anna is a witness to Nothingness.   There is no validation of violence.

In THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC or AU HASARD BALTHAZAR you have creatures who passively accept their suffering, and there is the sense that their suffering will ultimately be justified or redeemed by the grace of God.  But the world of MARTYRS is godless.  And in this godless world, there is no one to soothe those whom suffer, no one to redeem their pain with eternal love in the afterlife.  Those who suffer, suffer in vain.  In this way, by having Anna bear witness to Nothingness (to the meaninglessness of suffering), the film denounces those who inflict suffering and the very nature of violence and pain.  By positing complete and utter bleakness over the existence of violence and cruelty, it argues that neither shall ever be justified or redeemed.  The best one can hope for is a state of euphoria.  But this world and all if its hell shall never be transcended.  Violence is pointless; torture is cruelty for its own sake.

In arguing this, the film's ultimately hypocritical.  It denounces violence, but it displays it freely and with great detail.  It's a paradox it cannot escape.  Like when Deleuze challenges the idea of reason, but must use reason to prove it.  I would still say though that MARTYRS is less hypocritical than something like FUNNY GAMES because it refuses to make its violence comical or enjoyable.  It's interesting that yesterday I wrote about the humor of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.  I think there is a real dark humor to that, even as it is all kinds of nasty.  There's nothing humorous about MARTYRS, however.  It doesn't allow you to laugh at its depravity like TCSM or to remove yourself from it in a meta way like FUNNY GAMES.  It forces you to confront the despicable reality of its violence only so it can affirm to you how truly despicable it is.  So yeah, not your average torture porn movie.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Passion of Anna

Before I get into some other stuff – I forgot to mention in my September Recap that I re-watched Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL (1958).  It's a great, grotesque picture that appropriately caps the classical noir era by being almost carnivalistic in its representation of an underworld deeply canted and draped in shadows.  It's obviously a four star film.

I've started my October/Halloween horror tradition off with a bang – maybe too much of one.  After a pair of intense nightmare films in AUDITION (1999) and MARTYRS (2008), I'm already itching for some lighter respite.  It was cleansing to watch Tourneur's great, underrated western CANYON PASSAGE (1945) right after AUDITION though; and today, I plan on watching Borzage's MANNEQUIN (1937) to wash the taste of MARTYRS out of my mouth.  I think peppering in the classics with the intense stuff helps me keep my sanity.  October's too beautiful a month to completely drown in blood.

Actually before I watched AUDITION, I finally got to see the whole thing of the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974).  I had seen it in chunks before but never completely.  One thing that struck me about this updated and more comprehensive viewing was just how damn funny it is.  There's a macabre sense of humor to the film that is subtle but kinda great.  The whole freak-out ending where we meet Grandpa and sit around the table is pure lunacy to the point where you just have to laugh along with Hooper's demented sensibility.  I haven't seen the remake from the 00s, but I can imagine it takes itself too seriously.

AUDITION, one of the godfathers of torture porn, is vile, quesy, and quite humorless.  BUT – I did appreciate it, even if I can't necessary say that I enjoyed it.  It's undeniably a well-shot and seamlessly crafted film.  And it does a really effective job of building delicately towards its nasty conclusion.  I love how it sort of starts out like an Ozu film, both in its long-shot framing and remarriage subject matter.  I'm sure Miike meant to evoke Ozu on purpose to capture the purity, simplicity, and traditionalism of his style, only to completely subvert it later on in the film and create a thoroughly modern sense of depravity.  It's a clever and gross little twist.

I had first heard of MARTYRS in the comment section of Ed Gonzalez's top 10 lists page.  Someone recommended it to him, describing it as fucked-up torture porn with an unusual message.  I quickly filed it under the "Never see" category, mostly because anything that is sold to me as "really, really fucked up" is something I really, really don't care to see.  But then along came Brandon, who was watching it the other night and recommended I see it (with a strong "it's fucked up" caveat, of course), to spark my interest in it.  His texts to me on it were cryptic and strange enough that didn't sound like just another HUMAN CENTIPEDE or the next A SERBIAN FILM.  Plus, I trust the guy's opinion.  So, I decided to watch it, not caring if I spoiled my appetite for a day or two in the process.

MARTYRS starts out very intensely, and it really does not let up one bit.  Until the very end, it only has one trait–and that's unremitting brutality.  The opening is strong and frightening, with the mixture of a chilling revenge plot and frenetic ghost mystery (it has a very disturbing and violent home invasion sequence that is effectively done).  But from there, the film is just thoroughly revolting, so much so that an hour into it, I was about ready to call it quits.  Once Anna finds the torture victim below the house and pulls the steel vise from her head, I just about threw up my arms and said "that's it!" Still, I stuck with it, mostly due to wanting to know the answer to the mystery and wanting to know what had effected Brandon so much about it. 

After the first hour, we eventually meet the clandestine organization that's running the torture ring, and I admit I was initially very disappointed in their purpose.  I thought the film was trying to give an important "message" to its brutality about victims and martyrdom that I found cheap and exploitative.  When we then cut to an extended sequence of Anna being subjected to the vicious torture that has only previously been implied, I thought the film had completely gone off the rails into utter vileness-for-its-own-sake oblivion. Thankfully, Brandon had warned me about a sustained torture third act.  It wasn't quite as awful as I was imagining, but still pretty despicable (at least we didn't see the skin grafting take place–so there's that).

If you had asked me what I thought of the film five minutes before it was over, I would have told you I hated it.  It just seemed miserable and abominable.  But I tell you what–in that last five minutes, the film does something rich and strange that left me contemplating its meaning more than I would have thought.  I still can't say that I like the film or that I would recommend it, but it's much smarter and more nuanced than something like HOSTEL, SAW, or THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.  It's ruthless and nihilistic, but it achieves something close to profundity right at the end.  Not too many torture porn, miserablist, extreme cinema films I could say that about.  Still, steer clear of this one if you have a weak stomach or if you don't want to feel like shit for an hour and a half.

Brandon, if you want to dig more into MARTYRS, let's do it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

When There's No More Room in Hell, CR5FC Will Walk The Earth

I've been meaning to do a round-up post, as well as a general response to some recent posts from y'all, for a while now.  Since things have been moving a bit lethargically around the blogs (I'm as guilty as anyone), I figured it was an opportune time to get some chatter going again.  I'm still hoping to see LOOPER soon so that, perhaps, we can get a more detailed discussion of that underway.  THE MASTER was a pleasure to write about, but it seems we all had similar sentiments and opinions towards it, so that sort of ruined any chance of a heated back and forth.  Oh well.  You can't force discussion or argument.  It either happens or it doesn't. 

Anyway, onto some film talk.

Well, gang, it's October already (perhaps my favorite month, along with December).  That means it's time to dip into some horror movies.  There's a bunch on TCM this month that I'm excited for.  CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) is a huge one that I haven't seen yet.  That's on tomorrow afternoon and I'm really stoked for it.  Other notables I plan on watching on TCM that have so far eluded me:

Oct. 10 - THE UNINVITED (1944)
             - DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
Oct. 17 - THE MUMMY (1959)
Oct. 27 - BEDLAM (1946)
             - HOUSE OF WAX (1953)

I already caught MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) yesterday.  It was fantastic to see a technicolor film shot using the old two color (red and green) system.  It literally looks unlike anything else.  The film itself is fun and creepy.

Apart from those classics from the 30s-50s, this month I'm also trying to watch as many horror films from the 60s-present that I've missed over the years.  Perhaps my most anticipated horror film to see is BLACK SUNDAY (1960).  It's not on TCM this month or anywhere else online (that I can find).  I might have to subscribe to Netflix dvds again soon just to see it.  I need more Bava exposure.

I'm trying to see more Argento too.  I saw SUSPIRIA (1977) last year, and I have to say, I really love it.  I'm hoping to watch it again this month, and to convince Chris to see it too.  I think it's a masterpiece.  Beautiful, baroque, and deeply unsettling.  I actually kicked the first of the month off with Argento's DEEP RED (1975).  I was watching the restored version with some of the English dubbing lost, so there were plenty of scenes in Italian that I didn't understand a word of.  Thankfully, it's an Argento movie, so none of the dialogue or plotting matters all that much.  It's all about the visual scheme, style, and operatic death scenes.  It would have been nice to understand all that was being said to pull me into the story more, but I can't say I was disappointed with the kills.  Argento's use of violence is so formally stylized that it almost reminds me of Kubrickian tableaux.  Neither are meant to represent or capture reality, but to deliberately create an image that is pure cinema.  I'm liking what I've seen from Argento so far, but I've also only seen his two most acclaimed films.  Make of that what you will.

I had been re-watching the original DAWN OF THE DEAD on my computer for the past couple of days.  Unintentionally, but quite hilariously, I decided to finish it while having the presidential debate on mute in the background last night.  What a glorious juxtaposition that was.  But really, it was great to see DAWN OF THE DEAD again.  It's just a really entertaining and visceral movie, as well as being wickedly, wickedly funny.

I might do a top 30 horror movie list by the end of the month.  At the very least, I promise to create a top 10 or 15.  I know we talked about doing horror lists last year and nothing materialized, but this year I think I'm ready to do one.


Moving on from horror to other recent fare, it's Spencer Tracy month on TCM, so I was really glad to catch Walsh's ME AND MY GAL (1932) the other night.  It's a delightful film.  I love Joan Bennett, so it's a treat to see her so young (and blonde!).  There's also a really playful parody in the film of STRANGE INTERLUDE (the play and film) that is equally a treat to see.

Borzage's MAN'S CASTLE (1933) was on the other night as well.  I watched it this morning.  I thank Brandon for putting it on his '33 list because it had otherwise completely flown under my radar.  What a great film too; Brandon's completely right about it.  Like most Borzage films, it's very sensitive and reflective, and like most Borzage films, you ultimately can't help but feel moved.  The last shot is obviously a beaut, but there's a terrific moment earlier on where Spencer Tracy's character asks Loretta Young's what she would do if he left her (he's seriously contemplating abandoning her), and she says "I guess I would go back to being lonesome."  That sounds slight in print, but it hits hard when you hear her say it.

I would love to do a longer post on Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP (1990) and Tati's PLAYTIME (1967), but I don't know if I'll ever get to it.  CLOSE-UP is a film that I would highly recommend to everyone in the club because I think it's something that would interest film lovers very much.  It re-enacts a true story about a guy who impersonated a renowned Iranian director (Mohsen Makhmalbaf) for a family, using all the real people who were involved in it.  It's a faux-documentary that always makes its artifice apparent, but it ends up being an incredibly real and kind-hearted look at the man who pretended to be Makhmalbaf.  It's such an incredibly humane film that speaks to a desire in us all to play-act and rise above our troubles and loneliness, if only for a few hours a day.  It's a fascinating and stirring piece of work. 

PLAYTIME is a brilliant comedy.  There's almost no dialogue and no plot, but every gag is hilarious, intelligent, and inventive.  It's a comedy of pure mise-en-scene, which makes it very subtle, but incredibly sharp.  The longest gag in the film takes place in a restaurant that is slowly disintegrating (it's very funny), but my favorite gag takes place outside a collection of translucent cubicle apartments that Hulot visits.  This may be one of the few times in film history where the comedy comes not so much from what we're seeing but from where the camera is placed.  To fully understand what I'm saying, you'd have to see the film, but trust me, it's genius.


Onto a few brief responses:

Gentile - I'm ashamed to say that I'm haven't seen much John Waters.  I've been meaning to, especially because he makes such a great appearance in Season 8 of The Simpsons (Homer's Phobia - awesome episode).  I saw CRY-BABY way back when one felt the need to see everything with Johnny Depp in it (don't remember it too well).  But, other than that, I've seen nothing.  I will do something to change this at some point.

Ben - Not a STAR TREK fan, but I'm glad we are now basically neighbors.  If we both weren't hermits with social anxiety, we might be able to hang sometime. :)

Chris - I can just tell you this in person, but great MASTER post.  I definitely agree that the "Freddie as child" theme is one of the many character dynamics that exist between he and Dodd.  I've said this to you before, but not on the blogs, so I'll just say how much I love the shot of Freddie returning to Dodd after he gets out of jail.  You have a low angle shot of Dodd standing on Helen's porch with his little daughter riding her trike below him.  Then Freddie emerges into the frame alongside Dodd's daughter as she proceeds to run away.  For a brief moment we get Dodd looking down on these two children, and it's a great shot.

Brandon - You posted on it a while ago, but I'm really glad you saw and loved De Palma's BLOW-OUT.  It's an amazing film.  Definitely the best I've seen from him.  When he's on, he's definitely on.  I too love the dig at slasher films in the opening POV shot (seems more flippant than smug, which is good).  The rest of the film is just so carefully constructed, and very beautifully orchastrated.  And, to me, that ending is simply brilliant.  It's kind of like a really grim punch-line.  I love it.

Jason - You got a lot of movies in that flixster dump, so I'll just try to comment on a few for now.  More to come later. 

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL doesn't add anything new to the horror genre, but it's refreshing to see someone so committed to building tension.  That's why I love West.  Apart from his subtle but interesting work with character development, he's just one of the most patient guys in the game right now.  I'm a big fan of his and this film.  Ditto on THE INKEEPERS.

Well said on SHOTGUN STORIES.  A brutal film that doesn't glorify vengeance in the least bit.  I love all the quieter moments of the brothers spending time together.  They make the horror real.

Glad you liked DUCK SOUP.  Everyone I've show it to has found it hilarious.  It was a big deal for me when I saw it as a teen, and remains one of my favorites.

Also glad you liked and watched all those Boetticher westerns.  They are awesome and a pleasure to watch.

I had a similar reaction to CHILDREN OF THE CORN.  The name and VHS box for it at the video store always scared me as a kid, but then I saw it when I was older and it's pretty lame.  Still, it is fun to watch for the 80s nostalgia and because SOUTH PARK did a good parody of it.  OUTLANDER!!